Ranging in age from 183 to 8,000, Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are four vampires who share a flat in the Wellington suburb of Te Aro. Have allowed a documentary crew to film them throughout their nightly life, the undead quartet reveal to them their routines which include arguing over chores, struggling with today’s technology, antagonizing the local werewolves and putting up with Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), the newly turned fifth vampire of the group who’s having a harder time adjusting to life as a vampire than most others.
Mockumentaries and vampire films (last year had a draw with Jim Jarmusch’s quirky Only Lovers Left Alive and the lackluster Vampire Academy canceling each other out) are two genres that have been done to death in recent years, so you’d think What We Do in the Shadows, which combines the two, wouldn’t help matters. Not only does it succeed in both areas, it’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
Brought to us by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords’s Jemaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows easily earns its spot as one of the best vampire parodies. Of course, that’s not much praise when you consider its competition is the Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer turd Vampires Suck (however, there’s an overlooked French-Belgian mockumentary named Vampires that if not for a few lagging spots in the third-act might’ve been as good). This is one of those movies that winds up being smarter and cleverer than its silly synopsis might initially lead you to believe, and at just a little over 80 minutes long, never once drags but moves along at a brisk pace.
Though this is about vampires and several folklore elements which pertain to the iconic monsters are satirized, Clement and Waititi don’t rely on the barbarity of the vampires to mine the film’s laughs, but more the mundane ups and downs of day-to-day (or night-to-night in their case) life that they live through. Whether it’s Viago complaining that Petyr needs to clean up the human remains around his coffin or that Deacon hasn’t done the dishes once during his century to do so, an unsuspecting visit from the two most oblivious cops in the world, or the usual passive-aggressive fighting with the local werewolves, the humor is spot on and rarely, if ever, misses its mark.
Once in a while, Clement and Waititi resort to a gross-out sight gag or surprise moment, but when they do it works.
There’s also, without giving it away, a laugh-out-loud “sandwich” line that takes the cake as the best “didn’t see that coming” moment.
Being the most well-known star out of the cast, Clement could’ve turned this into a self-glorifying project, but everyone involved gets a moment or two to shine within the film. Even those that don’t have nearly as much screen time as the main three – Clement, Waititi and Brugh – make great use of the time that’s given them. Cori Gonzalez-Macuer is hysterically deadpan as the newly-turned vamp Nick who loves his newfound abilities but is completely oblivious to the rules vampires are forced to live by. He’s like a newly-turned 21-year-old who goes out partying hard at the bar, yet is unaware of the hangover that’s coming for him the next morning. Jackie Van Beek is great fun as Deacon’s nagging slave who longs to finally be turned, and Rhys Darby is equally funny as the leader of the werewolves who treats his pack’s affliction like a 12-step support group.
What’s definitely a pleasant surprise is the humanity found in these vampires (in particular, Waititi’s performance as the gentle and kindhearted Viago), all of whom take on a different portrayal of the creature such as Nosferatu, the romantic, Vlad the Impaler, the loose cannon, etc. The way they bond with each other is expected, but most endearing is the bromance that develops between the group and Stu, the shy friend of Nick’s who’s still human.
The mockumentary format isn’t anything new and we’ve obviously had more than our fill of vampires for the past decade, but What We Do in the Shadows is refreshingly witty take on both genres, providing plenty of well-earned laughs and clever jabs at the vampire folklore, while never overstaying its welcome. The dry humor isn’t for everyone, but those up for some deadpan fun won’t be disappointed at all.
I give What We Do in the Shadows an A (★★★½).