Could it be possible that February – a month normally associated with cinematic duds and forgettables – brings one of 2015’s funniest movies in the form of a vampire mockumentary? When it’s created by one-half of the duo behind The Flight Of The Conchords (Jemaine Clement) and Taika Waititi, you damn well better believe it.
Coming together like the uproarious lovechild of Christopher Guest and Dario Argento, What We Do In The Shadows is another giant leap forward for a stunted vampire genre that now depends on out-of-the-box efforts to make people both love and fear bloodsucking demons once again. Airing more on the side of comedy, Clement and Waititi poke fun at numerous vampire generations in the same movie, from Nosferatu to Twilight, and they do so through a Big Brother-esque documentary that introduces audiences to a group of vampires just trying to survive in today’s crazy, monster-hating world.
In other words, it’s pure comedic gold.
Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Petyr (Ben Fransham) and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) are vampiric flatmates living in a sleepy suburb of New Zealand. Even though they don’t face the same problems you or I might, we quickly learn that there’s far more to being a vampire than avoiding daytime activities and draining virgin blood from unsuspecting victims. Between a dull vampire social scene, needy slaves and secretive monster hunters, every day is full of challenges for those who find themselves mortally inclined. The whole killing innocent people part is a drag, too, because puddles of blood tend to stain if you don’t place newspapers down like you’re training a pet. The life of a vampire isn’t easy in today’s day and age, and these undead buddies are ready to show the world why.
What We Do In The Shadows is extremely dry and deadpan, but the humor is sharp as a tac (or a set of fangs?), never wasting a single opportunity to thrust a witty quip like a stake to the heart. Each character represents a different era, from the basement-dwelling Petyr to the newly turned Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), which allows for a whole slew of genre-related puns that span black-and-white classics to today’s glittery metro-vamp bullshit.
We’re not talking about braindead spoof humor like Vampires Suck, either. We’re talking about bloody, riotous observations about vampire normalities handled in a light-hearted, buddy-comedy-type delivery. Viago allows for more reserved takes on gory feeding scenes (childlike, almost), Deacon fancies himself a hiply-dressed badboy, and Vladislav purports the sex-hungry libido that vampires have become known for – with increasingly hilarious results as tensions mounts.
Clement and Waititi are comedians first and foremost, focusing on killer jokes that vary from recreating Pac-Man in a mirror (vampires can’t see their reflections) to their territorial sense of fashion (a rather ugly fight breaks out when Nick copies Deacon’s jacket style), but there’s still a strong sense of gruesome gore that evokes a very splattery, old-school mentality. Viago’s gentle, romantic nature plays wonderfully when his feeding scenes come about, as he lustfully woos his female victim while laying newspapers on the floor to prevent any stains. This is all well and good, because once Viago bites into her soft, fleshy neck, he accidentally nicks a main artery and causes a gushing geyser of blood to coat everything the newspaper touches (on numerous occasions).
Vladislav has the same mentality about cleanliness, reminding his roommates that when he drags a dead corpse down the hall, it wipes away the dirt and grime built up over time. Deacon is more resistant to the duties of being a flatmate, though, as he rebels against doing the dishes for five years because the life of a vampire shouldn’t be as laborious and dull. These house meetings and long interviews might sound like the least appealing moments of What We Do In The Shadows, but the improvised comedy that comes out of vampires discussing cleanliness and rooming situations creates some of the greatest reality television moments we’ve never seen. Between Nick’s obsession with telling everyone imaginable he’s now a vampire, to chance encounters with a rival group of werewolves (led by alpha-male Rhys Darby), everything comes together as a chilling fish-out-of-water comedy led by a host of souls caught in different times – and then there’s Stu.
What We Do In The Shadows is a bit of horror hilarity, oozing with charm thanks to a perfectly cast assembly of goofy, lovable vampire caricatures. These vamps don’t kill for fun – they only drain life out of necessity, and spend most of their time pulling practical jokes on spaghetti-eating humans via hypnosis. These are the scenarios Clement and Waititi find great comedic potential in, but even more impressive are the performances by each comedian, pulling together what could be described as the greatest season of MTV’s Real World – minus MTV’s new stankified vision.
There’d be no success without such a dynamite cast, though, which is where most of the praise should be directed. Conversations are sparing matches between Clement and his wild company, as each character fights to out-wit his vampiric competitors – but their chemistry is also simultaneously energetic and sincere. What We Do In The Shadows boasts hilarious vampire comedy, top-notch satire, and some of the funniest performances I’ve seen in the past few years – and yet it’s still struggling to find a wide US distribution. That, for lack of a better term, SUCKS.
What We Do In The Shadows boasts the subtle wit of a Christopher Guest mockumentary without disregarding a vampire film's bloody nature, scoring memorable laughs through satire and gore alike.