What We Do In The Shadows
Starring: Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Directed by: Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Running time: 86 minutes
By Jay Stone
The New Zealand vampire spoof What We Do in the Shadows — and it’s not too early to say that this is very probably the finest New Zealand vampire spoof of all time — begins with a typical joke. A digital clock turns from 5:59 to 6, and an alarm goes off. Then a hand appears to turn it off. The hand comes from a coffin.
It’s 6 in the evening, and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), a 183-year-old vampire, is waking up from his daytime nap to start his routine. Deacon lives in a house near Wellington with three other vampires, ancient creatures who have outlived their heyday and now are crammed in together in a modern world that seems to have little room for their baroque costumes, bloody rituals and tiresome immortality. And don’t even ask about the scarcity of virgins.
Of main concern to Deacon is today’s flat meeting at which they will discuss various problems, including the issue of Petyr (Ben Fransham), an 8,000-year-old flesh-eater who dwells in the basement and looks a bit like Nosferatu before the orthodontics. Petyr doesn’t say much, and his quarters are a mess of spinal columns and other detritus of the vampire diet.
Then there’s Viago (Taika Waititi), who’s on dish duty but hasn’t washed a thing for five years. Also around is Vlad (Jermaine Clement), a more traditional vampire who recalls the days when he would torture people and still cleaves to the traditional ways (“We should get some slaves.”) And who has been sucking blood on the living room couch without putting down some towels or newspapers first?
What We Do In The Shadows is a clever and often amusing twist on the vampire genre, not exactly hilarious but funny in the offbeat way of the New Zealand TV show Flight of the Conchords, with which it shares writers, director and much of its cast. Unlike, say, the more working class satire of horror that flexed its beer belly in the British film Shaun of the Dead, What We Do In The Shadows has a more laid-back approach that relies on both a working knowledge of vampire lore and a good ear to catch the sometimes elusive accents. A succulent neck is also welcome, of course.
Told as a mock documentary — a film crew has been invited to document the annual Unholy Masquerade, at which zombies, werewolves and the rest of the undead community celebrate their state in an office-party-cum-bloodletting — What We Do follows the three roommates (Petyr spends most of his time in situ) as they tour nighttime Wellington looking for victims and horsing around in the manner of drinking buddies everywhere, albeit with more fangs.
The group has a mostly oblique taste in gag-making, so that, for instance, they are banned from most nightclubs but find respite in a vampire-owned and –operated bar. They are eventually joined by Nick (Cori Conzalez-Macuer), a newbie vampire who brags to everyone about his cool condition, but eventually has second thoughts due to the fact that he can no longer eat French fries or watch daytime TV. They also befriend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who’s not a vampire at all but a computer programmer — and thus, to some in the community, automatically a virgin — and who provides an introduction to the Internet, an exciting innovation to the undead, as we already know.
Told in a swift 86 minutes, What We Do In The Shadows floats through the air, bat-like, on a combination of swift gags and likeably eccentric characters. Of course, they might eat you, but they have learned to cover the couch first.