You’d think we’d be done making fun of vampires at this point. Or at least, that’s what prompted the slight indifference I felt when I initially heard about the latest film from Flight Of The Conchords collaborators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. But upon watching What We Do In The Shadows, it became apparent to me that that’s not really the case. I mean there was that Seltzer/Friedberg Twilight parody that came out around the time of that franchise’s pinnacle of popularity, but I don’t need to tell you why that movie probably blows, assuming it exists, though I’m not sure since it seems like those movies immediately float into the ether of irrelevance after they’re released. Then there was also Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive from last year, which played with a lot of the conventions you equate with these immortal bloodsuckers in interesting ways, but I wouldn’t have called it a comedy by any means. Which fortunately left this Kiwi ensemble with a lot of well-known conventions to turn on its head, and in the process turn into blood-stained absurdist hilarity.
What We Do In The Shadows is told in a mockumentary style, though it never leans too heavy on this style, and thus gives the actors plenty of room to riff instead of being restricted by the format. Also, I’m hesitant to make the comparison since I am so completely out of touch with whatever reality TV is nowadays, but the movie does have a bit of a reality TV vibe, since it centers on a bunch of dysfunctional dudes living under one roof, it’s just that all of them happen to be vampires. Among these vampire dudes is Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) an 183 year-old former vampire Nazi, Vladislov (Jemaine Clement) an 862 year-old sexy shapeshifter, Viago (Taika Waititi) a 317 year-old dandy who’s still hung up on his long-lost love, and their fourth roommate Petyr, who essentially looks like Nosferatu, and thus every time he shows up it is both terrifying and ridiculous at the same time.
What We Do In The Shadows doesn’t rely a ton on plot, but I’d say it’s one of those movies (like most ones featuring Seth Rogen) that gets by on the strength of it just being really funny from scene-to-scene. But even despite the fact that the movie doesn’t have a huge overarching plot tying it all together — though there is a fifth vampire that comes into the mix and threatens to blow their cover — I wouldn’t call it sloppily written. The movie has a nice forward momentum to it, and a lot of the gags tend to build gradually upon a lot of the silly mythos that the movie (and 200 years of vampire fiction) have laid out for us.
Other than my Flight Of The Conchords fandom, I can’t say I had a ton of previous experience with the people in this movie. Of course, in this regard What We Do In The Shadows serves as another testament to the blissful deadpan of Jemaine Clement, who lends himself to some great line-readings as well as the image of his face on a cat’s body, which has been haunting me for the past few days. Taika Waititi on the other hand, to me was always just that director guy that sometimes collaborated with Jemaine and Brett Mackenzie (who’s unfortunately not present in this film), but Waititi gives a surprisingly adept performance that’s filled with a lot of awkwardness and even a little bit of heart. Also, Flight Of The Conchords‘ Rhys Darby even gets in on the fun by playing the leader of a werewolf gang, and who’s declaration that “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves” will surely rank among the most memorable lines in any movie this year.