Review: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

A hilarious mockumentary of the secret lives of vampires

Flight of the Conchords took New Zealand to the forefront of comedy with its deliciously weird humour. Although set in New York, its Kiwi stars Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie gave us a witty and unique blend of friendship and laughs. Clement has reproduced this to film with What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary putting a spin on the vampire genre – and this spin keeps on turning as the film progresses, with some delightfully fresh takes on the blood-sucking clichés in modern society.

A ‘film crew’ starts by interviewing Viago (co-writer and extremely likeable Taika Waititi), who introduces them to the other vampire residents and their various issues with being housemates. There’s randy Vladislav (Clement), insecure and untidy Deacon (Jonathan Burgh) and the oldest one Petyr (Ben Fransham), aged 8,000. While Viago tries to maintain some normality to proceedings (washing dishes, cleaning), there are other things they all have to deal with, like trying to get into nightclubs (because, of course, they have to be invited in) and feeding on the right sort of people. Things come to head when a supposed meal, Nick (Cori Ganzalez-Macuer), is instead turned into one of them. They accept him into their group, along with his impassive human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), which consequently leads them into direct confrontation with their mortal enemies and local bad boys – the werewolves.

Solid acting and sharp dialogue keeps the deadpan jokes flowing; they are so consistent that once they turn up the pools of blood barely register. Likewise with the special effects; they just blend in as part of the scene, such as when an argument takes place between two of the flatmates – the hilarious nature and absurdity of it all means you hardly realise they are actually doing so in mid-air. What has also been ingeniously implemented is the view of our pre-conceived ideas about vampires and their ways and traditions (think eating normal food and looking in a mirror).

Because of this there are many standout scenes, from Viago taking his dinner date home (and subsequently laying out newspapers to avoid getting blood on the floor) to the annual Monster’s Ball – there is never a dull moment.

Amongst all the blood and jokes, there’s a little bit of heart too; Viago’s pursuit of a long lost love and Vladislav’s estranged wife add a drop of bittersweet tragedy to events. Even Deacon has some sort of emotional connection with his human slave who he strings along to do his real world dirty work. But the crux of it is all of them striking a bond with Stu, the unassuming IT geek. He opens them up to a level of connection to humanity they’ve never experienced before, from modern technology to just trying to get along with everyone.

Clement and Waititi have cleverly taken the current popularity of the mythology and lumped it into life as we know it. Combining this reality with elements of the horror genre, What We Do in the Shadows is an Office style comedy with a touch of The Lost Boys – what’s not to love about that? So despite the Twilight saga and the Underworld franchise bleeding the romance out of vampires, it’s good to know there’s still life in them yet.

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