The writing-directing duo of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done what many believed to be impossible, through bringing humour back to the vampire comedy with What We Do In The Shadows – a horror-mockumentary profiling four centuries-old creatures who live in suburban Wellington, New Zealand. Taking on the guise of a production made by “The New Zealand Documentary Board”, the film documents the day-to-day lifestyles of Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and the Nosferatu-like Petyr (Ben Fransham), who sleep all day and party all night, in a manner not so different from your average young adult. The introduction of a new bloodsucker into their pack (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) erupts in conflict and disarray, packed with non-stop comedy that bites deeply into vampire culture.
The film is less in the terrain of Waititi’s past two Kiwi features Eagle vs. Shark (2007) and Boy (2010), and more directly in line with the comedic sensibilities of Clement’s popular HBO series Flight of the Conchords. The duo’s exploration of the pros and cons of being a modern day vampire, enables a strong culture clash, while defining the lead characters with enough dimensionality to be invested in their sense of kinship. This chemistry, both in terms of the screenplay and the actors’ own improvisation, leads to a subtle level of dry comedy throughout, divided amongst a range of sensibilities including slapstick, sarcasm, and satire. It is exactly this versatile approach that keeps the film fresh, even when viewed against the simplistic course that the plot encompasses.
The real strength of the narrative comes through Clement and Waititi’s ability to assess so many different facets of vampire lore, over the course of an 87-minute runtime. While any other filmmaker would attempt to parody recent takes on the mythos such as Twilight or True Blood, it’s wholly apparent that the proper research has been done, going as far back to the first instances of these deviant beings appearances. In doing so, they have made a film that will appeal equally with devout horror fans and those more considerate to comedy, as the gags and gore are of equal stature.
Through delivering laughs of a consistent nature, and doing justice to the vampire mythos, What We Do In The Shadows is a must-see mockumentary, on the level of the work by Christopher Guest or the Monty Python group. It’s a bloody great time, both literally and figuratively, and worth seeking out.
What We Do In The Shadows opens at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto on February 13th.