Sweet, shocking and startlingly funny – What We Do in the Shadows is a new cult-classic.
How many vampires does it take to wash the bloody dishes? We’re talking literally, since our undead protagonists here seem to make a complete mess of their meals. New Zealand horror/comedy film What We Do in the Shadows is a unique and hilarious take on the vampire genre, adopting a mockumentary style that pays off incredibly well. For context, as viewers are informed by a title card at the beginning of the film, a group of documentary filmmakers were invited to follow a select few mysterious individuals in the run-up to a secret event, known only as the Unholy Masquerade.
We are quickly introduced to these shadowy figures living in the country’s capital city, Wellington: the undead housemates are 379-year-old dandy Viago (a wonderfully affable Taika Waititi), the 8000-year-old Nosferatu lookalike Petyr, 183-year-old wannabe hipster Deacon (you can imagine him modelling his smirking devil-may-care attitude on Stephen Dorff’s Blade villain Deacon Frost) and finally Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) playing Vladislav, a near-900-year-old vampire whose former power and glory has now faded following his long-ago run-in with his nemesis, the Beast. When cool guy newcomer Nick gets turned into a vampire, the foursome’s insular world starts to crumble and the household find themselves facing a modern, but exciting, future.
Full of physical humour and endearingly comic moments, this film is witty and charming. From their complete ignorance of modern technology, to the vampires’ playground antagonism with Wellington’s roving werewolf pack, these vampires are social outsiders whose dealings with the world at large are at once silly and sad. They have all the traditional vampire powers – turning into bats, hypnosis, immortality – as well as the curses, such as aversion to sunlight and silver, and it is these weaknesses that make them appear more human. Viago keeps a silver locket given to him by a lost love, but can only wear it for 5 seconds at a time before it begins to painfully sizzle his skin.
Viago – our main guide into the supernatural world – is a great character; there is something so disarmingly sweet about him, he carries himself so gently that when you do see him murder a young woman in gruesome fashion (only after having put down newspaper and towels to soak up any excess blood), it is both shocking and startlingly funny. All of the vampires are monsters, they want to kill you, in ghoulish and ghastly ways (Vladislav keeps a torture chamber in the house!), but they also just want to belong somewhere, be part of a family and feel loved. This melancholy streak never becomes too serious – these aren’t your brooding, fatefully morose Anne Rice vampires – but it works to make the constant humour even more delightful.
Even though this film, written and directed by Waititi and Clement, serves up all of the vampire clichés imaginable, it finds ways to make them amusing, managing to turn the genre’s well-worn tropes into hilarious gags again and again. The characters’ eccentricities and foibles set a fantastic tone to the film.
A smart, unique and hilarious film that takes vampire lore – its ridiculous traditions and rules – and makes them feel fresh again. It is scary and gruesome, but adorable and light-hearted. There aren’t many films you can describe like that. This film shows that friends are there to help each other, and new friends appear in unexpected places, you just have to be willing to give them a chance. What We Do in the Shadows also shows that, even if you are an immortal being sharing a flat with other supernatural fiends, someone still has to do the bloody dishes.