Imagine if Count Dracula, Nosferatu, Lestat and Bill Compton from True Blood lived together in a dilapidated house as roommates for eternity! What evil plots would they formulate? Who’d be the resident alpha vampire? What conflicts would arise? More importantly, who’d do the dishes and handle the chores? How about the electricity bills? That’s the central conceit behind What We Do in the Shadows, an uproarious mockumentary from writer-directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
Adopting the format of a reality TV show in the vein of The Real World (the film comes with a disclaimer from the “The New Zealand Documentary Board” stating that each crew member wore a crucifix and was granted protection by the subjects), What We Do in the Shadows follows four vampires in modern day Wellington over a six month period as they prep for an annual event known as The Unholy Masquerade.
Clement, who in addition to sharing writing and directing duties, stars as Vladislav, an 862-year-old medieval-era vampire (think Gary Oldman’s iteration). Vladislav, or Vlad as he likes to be called, is the resident lothario—romantic but old-fashioned to a fault. Once the most feared vampire in the world, times became tough for Vlad after his embarrassing defeat to a creature known only as “The Beast.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the 183-year-old ex-Nazi and bad boy of the group (think Bill Compton from True Blood or Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys) who fled Germany after post war Europe became inhospitable for Nazi vampires. The third member of this motley crew is Petyr (Ben Fransham), an 8,000-year-old Nosferatu surrogate who spends the majority of the film either locked inside his stone coffin or scaring the crap out of everyone else.
But my favorite is Viago (Waititi), a 379-year-old dandy and the house’s resident moderator. Like Brad Pitt’s Louis from Interview with the Vampire, Viago is the film’s emotional center—always enthusiastic to be interviewed and constantly moping over a woman who he never had the courage to talk to 70 years ago. Viago is the type of gentle soul who scolds the others for not covering the couches with newspapers during kills or calls flat meetings to discuss things like washing the dishes. Viago’s nagging naturally drives the others crazy but it’s also what makes him endearing. He’s such a sweetheart that he even tries to ensure his victims are having a good time before he kills them. It helps that Waititi plays Viago as such an awkward yet lovable dork.
Most of the laughs in What We Do in the Shadows are derived from the crew’s constant squabbles over mundane things like who’s turn it is to vacuum the place or their piss-poor attempts to fit in with the times. Since none of them have reflections, dressing up for a night out on the town proves cumbersome. Getting into clubs is another nightmare as they have to be invited in first. Other hilarious bits include spontaneous bat fights (yes, bat fights!), a quasi-terrifying hunting session, a subplot involving a dimwitted “bro” named Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) who Petyr unwittingly turns into a vampire, and best of all, a West Side Story-style rivalry with the local pack of swear-averse werewolves.
Normally, a one-note high concept like this would be more apt as a five minute video on YouTube or as a SNL Halloween Special skit but there’s never a moment in What We Do in the Shadows’ 86-minute running time that feels strained. Clement and Waititi sustain their feature with a barrage of laugh-out-loud jokes, by making pointed observations on male-male dynamics (I kept thinking of my college dorm days), crafting rich and memorable characters, and with a whip smart screenplay that leaves no vampire trope untouched. What We Do in the Shadows isn’t going to break any new ground in the comedy or mockumentary genres but with its wonderful performances and joke-a-minute ratio, it definitely makes for a fun-filled time. Sometimes, it’s all that matters.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Screenwriters: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Ben Fransham, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Producer: Emanuel Michael, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley
Running time: 86 minutes
Companies: Paladin Films
Rating: Not Rated