WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Written and Directed by: Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Jackie Van Beek, Ben Fransham
It’s not every day (month or year, for that matter) that you see a documentary that completely charms the pants off you and conjures lots of laughter. Yet here we are with writers-directors-actors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Simply put, this mockumentary does for vampires what SPINAL TAP did for rock stars. It’s uproariously funny and wonderfully absurd.
Viago (Waititi) is a 379-year-old dandy vampire living in Wellington, New Zealand with three other flatmates. The first is Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the coolest, youngest vampire of the group with a flair for fashion and rebellious, bad boy behavior. Vlad “the poker” (Clement) grew up in medieval times and was known for torturing people. He’s also a real ladies’ man who has tangled with a mythical figure called “the beast” (one of the film’s many long running gags). And finally there’s Petyr (Ben Fransham), the Nosferatu-looking vampire they speak to gingerly. The flatmates also have a dutiful human “familiar,” Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) who essentially runs the house with hopes to someday be turned. But their (night)lives change for the better and worse when hipster Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) joins their crew after Petyr turns him. He’s young, can’t keep a secret, and a poseur when it comes to individual style. How will they ever get along?
WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS brilliantly and rather effortlessly interweaves vampire folklore with Real World-esque issues. What do you do when your roommate won’t wash the literally bloody dishes? How do arguments get settled? How do they enjoy the city’s nightlife? How do they get ready to go out on the town when they can’t see their own reflections? I’d lay out the answers to these questions, but therein lie the comedic bits that shouldn’t be spoiled. Some of the funniest scenes involve the vamps’ turf war with a local band of prowling werewolves – led by Anton (Rhys Darby, who FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS fans will recognize instantly), an old soul who’s trying to bring back a certain dignity and elegance to the lifestyle (“We’re werewolves – not swearwolves!”). There’s also a great gag involving Vlad and Facebook that still makes me have a hearty chuckle. Plus, there’s a lot of self-aware “Hollywood” jokes instilled into the narrative – from BLADE to THE LOST BOYS, to even SISTER ACT 1 and 2.
At times, the film does experience a few hemorrhages. The story is rather light. While it’s not meant to be taken too seriously, there’s just not a lot of meat to the narrative. Though it never feels dull, nor does it meander, some of the filmmakers’ choices could be called into question. Why would the gang ever bring Nick’s human best friend Stu (Stu Rutherford) to the annual masquerade ball? It stands out as a tad contrived when set against the rest of the film’s flow. Had they not brought him, there wouldn’t be a denouement.
When all is said and done, however, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a fun and deadly funny concept that has bite.
4 out of 5
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS played AFI Fest on November 8 and 11. It opens February 13, 2015 in New York and Los Angeles, in limited release on February 20, and elsewhere February 27.Read More »