What We Do in the Shadows (2014) (86 minutes)
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
Written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer.
There have been hundreds of vampire films made worldwide and dozens of vampire comedies produced as well. However, none of them comes close to combining horror and humor effectively as What We Do in the Shadows.
The movie supplies fresh blood, so to speak, into a sometimes tedious genre. There have been very few films that attempt a bold and fresh approach to traditional vampire lore, and blend it seamlessly with a millennial sensibility.
The plot concerns four very old vampires, 8,000 year old Petyr, Vladislav aged 872 years, Viago aged 379 and the youngster, Deacon merely 182. They share a house in a suburb of Wellington, NZ, where they are ill equipped for 21st Century life. Petyr resembles Count Orlock from Nosferatu, while Vladislav is a more traditional Count Dracula/ Vlad the Impaler figure. The other two vampires are more unfamiliar tropes, but Viago is a fussy, dandy who sees himself as the head of the household, while Deacon fancies himself as a rebel and troublemaker.
Their undead lives change one night when Deacon’s human familiar, Jackie, brings one of her ex-boyfriends over for them to eat. Nick is a typical hipster, and after being chased around the house and terrorized by the three creatures, is caught inadvertently by Petyr, who instead of killing him, changes him into a vampire.
This is where the movie kicks into high gear as Nick returns as a freshly minted creature of the night, with his computer programmer friend, Stu, in tow. Nick makes his fellow vampires promise not to eat his friend, and in return, Stu introduces the household to the wonders of computers.
This sets up most of the film’s dynamic tension the rest of the way, as Nick has a hard time controlling his new powers, leading to a terrible tragedy.
Where’s the comedy you ask? Just about everywhere. Viago’s attempt at putting the bite on a sweet young lady goes horribly and bloodily awry. The roommates have a hysterical encounter with a pack of werewolves one evening after a night on the town. Two police arrive at the house unannounced, after a complaint by the neighbors. This scene had me in tears, as it hit all the right notes of parody, horror, one-liners, and slapstick.
The film’s greatest achievement is keeping everything a serious vampire fan expects while updating the narrative to modern times without being awkward. The movie is not perfect. At times, the vampires act very immature considering their average age is well over 400 years old. A few of the set-pieces are plain stupid. However, these are minor squabbles.
What We Do in the Shadows is shot in a mockumentary style, yet has none of the shortcomings of similar efforts. The camera work is crisp and the location photography, whether in a dance club, the vampire’s house, a chip shop, or elsewhere is superb. The acting is uniformly excellent with each character giving a nuanced and at times touching performance. A scene where Deacon tries to comfort Nick is particularly affecting while at the same time, extremely funny.
What We Do in the Shadows has been highly praised by the mainstream press, and rightly so. Although not a cinematic masterpiece such as Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers or similar to the modern, inventive Let The Right One In, this New Zealand gem has everything a fan could ask for- blood, guts, bats, transformations, flying vampires, werewolves, zombies, and more laughs than any so-called comedy of the last decade.