I must have been intoxicated when I saw What We Do In The Shadows, or the stars were aligned and I was visited by the angels of vampiric comedy, because I couldn’t stop laughing, even when all I was seeing on screen was Jermaine Clement staring blankly at the camera. By the end of the film, I was exhausted and my eyes had failed as tear dams.
Or maybe I’m just a sucker for movies like this, movies that start with a simple premise then steamroll through any notion of plot with jokes and humour so quick, preposterous, and downright hilarious that I am simply swept along for the ride without care or concern. Or maybe, and I think this is the truest, I just love mockumentaries.
What’s the story here, really? A house in New Zealand hosts four vampire roommates, one of which looks uncannily like Nosferatu and sleeps upright in a stone coffin in the basement. Actually, hold on — just stop and consider that sentence. If it doesn’t sound so improbably crazy that it makes you chuckle just a bit, chances are you’re not going to enjoy this movie.
The idea is somewhat ingenious, because it opens doorways for a lot of scenarios in which vampires, who are hundreds of years old, attempt to assimilate real-life conditions in a contemporary society (“Most vampires like to live in castles, but then there are some of us who like to flat together in small countries like New Zealand”). There is a particularly eye-watering sequence in which the three main vampires, Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Clement), lure human victims to their house with spaghetti then proceed to chase them around the rooms and corridors looking like bad performances from an “Interview With The Vampire” stage adaptation. The payoff to this sequence is the clincher, so of course I will say nothing about it.
Another funny moment is when the vamp dudes go out for a night on the town dressed like mannequins from a costume museum and encounter a pack of werewolves in the park. The wolves are led by Anton, the alpha male played by Rhys Darby, whose anecdote about his time in the army, on the BBC panel show QI, was one of the greatest ever structured and pitched.
There is a lot of animosity between the vampires and the werewolves, but the wolves have taken the high road; they have to keep reminding themselves that they are werewolves, not swear-wolves, and that fighting is not a pastime one should aspire to indulge in (when the full moon approaches, they chain themselves to trees and lose any piece of clothing they don’t want to tear in the transformation process).
The vamps, on the other hand, are rather uncouth individuals, content to give in to their animalistic nature. At one point Viago sweet-talks an innocent lady before botching her blood-sucking and spraying the room with the contents of her jugular. The most domesticated, rather ironically, is Deacon, who knits loose-stitch scarves even though he hates doing the dishes.
There is so much going on here. So much nonsense. And if you’re in the right frame of mind, as I was, sometimes you might need to hold in your laughter to hear the next joke or absorb the next sight gag.
What We Do In The Shadows stars two members (Clement and Darby) of the famous satirical music group Flight Of The Conchords, though much of their material is not present in the screenplay. It was co-written and co-directed by Clement and Waititi, whose singular vision is appropriately steadfast and driven. The film clocks in at just under 90 minutes, yet all the characters take full turns and travel full arches around the perimeter of mayhem.
On the surface, What We Do In The Shadows is a silly film about silly vampires, but it’s funny. Very funny. On the inside, however, well, it’s still silly. This is a movie about writing and performances, not story, and on those accounts alone it is rather great.
Best Moment | All of it.
Worst Moment | Nope.