From Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) comes this delightfully absurd mockumentary about a group of vampires sharing a flat in Wellington. It’s explained to us at the beginning by Viago (Waititi) an 18th century dandy, that even though some vampires like to live in old world castles, others prefer to flat together in remote countries like New Zealand. Waititi is utterly charming as Viago, who talks directly to camera an acts as a guide whist a crew from the fictionalised New Zealand Documentary Board follow the day to day (or should I say night to night) lives of this quartet of vampires in something akin to an undead version of The Real World. Along with Viago we have Vladislav (Clement), a medieval count known as “The Poker” due to his favourite method of torture and also supposedly because of his skill with women. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the youngest and the self-proclaimed bad boy of the group, and finally Petyr (Ben Fransham) is a Nosferatu-like vampire that is over 8,000 years old and lives in a tomb in the basement.
What We Do in the Shadows is by far one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud comedies that I’ve seen in a long time. As with Flight of the Conchords, the film’s deadpan comedy and subtle irony is reinforced by its sincere examination of friendship. Despite the fairly ludicrous concept of vampires sharing a flat together their disagreements and frustrations are oddly relatable, from bemoaning the dishes not having been done to ensuring that everyone clean up after themselves (We’re vampires, we don’t put down towels!).
The film itself is fairly loose on plot but as with most of the best comedies this works to its advantage; it’s more of a character piece overall, and what great characters they are. As well as the awkward flat-sharing moments the main theme revolves around the vampires coming to terms with modernity, they are clueless about fashion as they are about technology and they are no longer able to get into the coolest clubs. Having been turned in various time periods this accounts for their differing personalities and also their combined ineptitude when it comes to fitting in in the 21st century. Everything changes though when a young local guy named Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) is accidentally turned and enters their lives like a hurricane, leaving their long established routine in tatters. Suddenly they find a new lease of life, and along with Nick’s best (human) friend Stu (Stu Rutherford) who works in IT they are able to get to grips with technology and the internet. Vlad is then able to do his “dark bidding” via eBay, much to his enjoyment and they are able to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade Ball with a renewed sense of vigour.
The film never flags when it comes to illiciting laughs and there are some particularly hilarious vignettes involving a rival band of werewolves, led by Conchords regular Rhys Darby, which for me were the funniest scenes in the film (What are we? Werewolves, not swear-wolves!). Another aspect of the film that I rally enjoyed was that they are not afraid of lashing on the gore – it’s probably up there with Braindead in terms of number of splattacular and hilarious visual gags. Which solves the issue I have with a lot of horror comedies, in that they’re neither, whereas What We Do in the Shadows is both. It is Deacon though that got the biggest laugh out of me, when he explains to Nick that he made “the simple mistake of fashioning a mask out of crackers, and being attacked by ducks and geese and swans.” This is deapan absurdist humour at its absolute best.
Really, I can’t express just how much I loved this film. I’ve seen it twice now and I laughed consistently throughout on both viewings. It’s true that this could’ve been tailor made for precisely my sense of humour, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find broad appeal. I’m certainly hoping that because of the huge success of Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows will find a large crossover audience. It’s so refreshing to see an original film that more than lives up to your expectations, it also proves that just when you think you’re all vampired out something comes along that reminds you why you loved the genre to begin with and although there are a lot of in-jokes for genre fans and some of the references feel quite parochial it only adds to its charm and I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough!
There are also some cracking special features on the DVD including deleted scenes, a making-of documentary and the original short film that this is an expansion of.
What We Do in the Shadows is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, from Metrodome.