What We Do in the Shadows
Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Jemaine Clement as Vladislav
Taika Waititi as Viago
Jonathan Brugh as Deacon
Ben Fransham as Petyr
In the tradition of the great award-winning film documentaries of our time and the best that reality television has to offer (which is practically nothing), here we are presented with a deadly serious documentary about the hardships, the downfalls, the pain, the sacrifice and the glorious laughter of four very different but equally intriguing fellows living in the same flat. Thing is, they’re all blood-sucking vampires with age ranges from centuries to mere decades old.
This is the touching story of What We Do in the Shadows.
Of course, it’s not really a documentary. Vampires don’t exist. Right? Am I right?
Armed only with their cameras, a few crucifixes and some rickety promises from the undead that they won’t be devoured, a group of documentary filmmakers tread into the abode of four ages-old friends. It’s The Odd Couple (plus two) for the blood-sucking set. There’s Viago (Taika Waititi), the effeminate, tidy and lovelorn vampire, Vlad (Jemaine Clement), the bold and beautiful former conqueror, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the snarky instigator, and Petyr (Ben Fransham), theNosferatu-inspired, gnarly-toothed quiet-type. The film follows their lives for a few months – from the mundane to their heated run-ins with a local pack of smelly werewolves. In a most inspired bit, the werewolves are revealed to be deeply against cursing. “We’re werewolves, not swear-wolves.” I’m assuming they adopted this pledge to keep the inner-animal at bay. Swearing leads to anger and that leads to violence. Brilliant!
Things go along pretty regularly, until one of their intended victims, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) becomes one of the flat’s regular inhabitants. But instead of keeping his newly-acquired vampire powers a secret, he touts his wares to anyone who will listen. This creates tension in the group, and could spell danger for the boys.
What We Do in the Shadows is an absolute hoot! Horror comedies are always a gamble, and usually you can tell within moments if the conceit will work. From the time the film began, I knew I would be in love. Viago (Waititi) shuts off his jarring alarm by reaching out of his coffin – as the documentary crew captures his every move. From there on out, the first few minutes are just Viago mechanically trying to make things interesting for his “audience”. He wakes his fellow flat-mates, reminding them of the important tenants meeting about to take place. It seems that there have been issues with dirty dishes, not cleaning up after a victim’s bloody murder (a fantastic sight gag we will revisit later) and the general upkeep of their aging place. Y’know – things that we can all understand.
We don’t just follow the little details of their lives, we follow them as they go out for a night on the town, choosing victims, bossing around their familiars. Deacon’s long-suffering servant, Jackie (Jackie van Beek) does all of the group’s bidding, forever waiting on her chance to join their undead ranks. It’s so sad and yet so adorable to see the longing in her face as she begs to be bitten – so much credit to van Beek for this supporting player triumph!
Pointing out Jackie van Beek is a bit of a tease, as truly they were all stand-out performances. But none so heart-warming as Stu (Stuart Rutherford) Nick’s friend from before (and after) Nick has been turned. He’s a quiet and loyal soul, endearing himself to all in the house. Of course his intro of the internet and all things technological makes him a valuable member of the gang. You will find yourself rooting for this guy, and very emotional about his well-being as the film progresses. He’s a guy you just want to hug and with whom you’d love to share a beer.
Like Stu, the remaining characters all have their soft spots, making them instantly loveable in many different ways – Vlad’s constant complaints about his nemesis, “The Beast” (which is always accompanied by discordant music and disturbing stills); Deacon’s “erotic dance for his friends”, Petyr’s “morning” meal and Viago’s need to impress the camera. These are loveable ghouls and with the imaginative set-up, it’s a true horror/comedy winner!
And without spoiling the delicious surprise – I hesitate to use this term – God help me – there were several honest-to-goodness LOL moments in this flick. The best one has to do with a line about a “sandwich”. And that is all I will say. It was a doozy with a brilliant delivery.
Although I’m not properly educated in the apparent brilliance of the critical darling that is Flight of the Concords, I’m assuming the humor in What We Do in the Shadows is similar to that of Concords(creators are the same for both). So I would venture a guess that if you have found a place in your heart for Concords, this may be a hit for you as well.
The glamorous undead ball/party which is talked about endlessly during the film, is finally seen in the climax. While I loved that there were some zombies, demons and witches in the mix of the vampires, it didn’t have the “big ending” feel that I was hoping for. But again, it may have been intended. After all, the location for this big to-do was pretty pathetic – in a very funny way. Just didn’t have the huge impact I wanted.
It’s a very sweet movie at its not-yet-staked heart, focusing on Viago and his long lost love, the camaraderie and special bond between these vampires and their traditions which, rather than cement the sexiness myth of the vampire, serve to show them as fragile, sometimes idiotic, but always loyal in their buffoonery.
There’s not much here for scares, but with horror comedies, that’s always a crapshoot. I think it’s great when they can elicit some fear amidst the howling laughter, but sometimes, it’s not what the piece is all about. In my mind, all horror comedies must be measured against the recent horror classic Shaun of the Dead – hysterically funny, deeply touching and nail-bitingly frightening. If you reach such a place of – let’s call it multi-tasking, you’ve 100% succeeded. With a few goofy “boo” moments, we get some fun jolts, but there is no suspense and no dread.
What We Do in the Shadows will be released theatrically in February. The LOL moments (so sorry) are worth the price of admission. The performances top that laughter. And the sweetness wins out in the end. Hysterical and heartwarming.