What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Some interviews with some Vampires

Eight years since they developed the idea, What We Do in the Shadows, a fly-on-the-wall mockumentary about a group on New Zealand vampires, seems to have sucked fresh new blood out of Hollywood’s most worn out sub-genre. Written and directed by Jemaine Clement, from Flight of the Concordes (2007) and Taika Waititi, Eagle vs Shark (2007), who also star in the film, What We Do in the Shadows was originally conceived and shot as a short back in 2005, when the duo were living in shared homes down the road from one other, with their experiences giving them the idea for this offbeat premise. The pair originally met as students at Wellington University, almost a decade ago, and created the comedy duo The Humourbeasts, before fleshing out this bizarre synopsis — a group of misfits living together for thousands of years — which they claimed was almost a gothic take on Richard Lowenstein’s He Died with a Felafel in His Hand (2001). Alas, the project was put on the backburner when the pair’s respective careers took off, however, nine years later, Clement and Waititi’s busy schedules aligned, allowing their idea to finally become a feature-length reality.

Produced on a minuscule budget in New Zealand, this amusing little flick chronicles the ‘every night’ lives of four bloodsuckers sharing a rundown house in suburban Wellington. At the start of the picture, we are introduced to the gentleman of the group, Viago (Taika Waititi), who is 379 years old, still wanders around town in his 18th century attire and is fussy about the cleanliness of his homestead, laying out fresh newspaper on the ground before feeding on his victims. Audiences soon become acquainted with the traditional Transylvanian predator Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), who’s 862 years of age and considers himself a bit of a lady’s man. We also meet the 8000-year-old Nosferatu-looking Petyr (Ben Fransham), who dwells in the dark cellar of the living quarters, and finally, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the quartet youngster, aged 183, who is considered the ‘teenager’ of the group, proudly recalling his days as a consultant to the Nazis during World War II.

Portrait photos suck!
Portrait photos suck!

The premise of the picture is simple but rather attention-grabbing, as we, the audience, are welcomed into the home of this immortal quartet, by means of a mortal camera crew who are invited into their shadowy abode to document the vampire’s nightly lives, exposing the truth behind their existence as they prepare for the Unholy Masquerade — an ‘invite only’ get-together for local dark forces. While observing the vamps, we quickly learn that when the foursome aren’t squabbling over bills or dirty dishes, they’re sucking the life out of virgins or roaming around the New Zealand streets eager to party, subsequently looking for a bouncer who is willing to ‘invite’ them into the premises. All the while, we come to discover that the seemingly ordinary Kiwi metropolis is crawling with a host of supernatural creatures, from werewolves to zombies, all trying to get by in modern society. The group’s nocturnal lifestyle is eventually disrupted when Petyr turns 20-something human hipster Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, obliging the crew to welcome him into their house in order to teach him the ropes of eternal life. In return, Nick shows his newfound roommates a thing or two about modern society, fashion, technology, and the internet whilst introducing them to his human, professional I.T. friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who changes the vampire’s lives and attitudes towards the ever-changing world around them.

Although the feature amounts to nothing other than a collection of semi-improvised sketches and an occasional formal interview thrown in for good measure — think This Is Spinal Tap (1984) — What We Do in the Shadows remains tremendously entertaining thanks to its comic cast and earnest look at growing old, regrets, loss and coming to terms with inevitable change. Given the random nature of the project, with its improvised filmmaking, the guys finished up with about 125 hours of footage, which Clement and Waititi had to cut into the 90-minute feature — one has to wonder if the unused recordings will ever be released for the public to enjoy. With hours of spontaneous footage to sift through, the editing process took about a year to complete, although special effects were slowly added as the picture was being pieced together. Because of its off-the-cut nature, the finished product is a bit uneven in parts and, given its subject matter, certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but those eager for something different will most likely delight in the feature’s lo-fi laughs, which remain consistent from beginning to end. The film’s killer soundtrack — finalized at Peter Jackson’s prestigious Park Road Post facility in Wellington — further enhances the film’s gothic vibe, in a melting pot of different ethnic vibes and contemporary melodies from around the globe.

Bloody Hilarious!
Bloody Hilarious!

The winning chemistry between the Kiwi cast truly sparkles — pun intended — and becomes more infectious as What We Do in the Shadows continues to do its thing. Taika Waititi, Eagle vs Shark (2007), is the clear stand-out as the fastidious dandy Viago, who isn’t afraid to take viewers through a tour of his life, whilst Flight of the Concordes (2007) regular Rhys Darby is a hoot as the leader of an affable werewolf pack, who live by the motto, ‘we’re werewolves, not swearwolves.’ Jackie van Beek, Eagle vs Shark (2007), is a welcome inclusion in the predominantly male cast as Deacon’s familiar, Jackie, a housewife who craves to someday become a vampire, but is stuck performing banal chores for her master until the day he decides to grant her immortality. Newcomer Stuart Rutherford, in his first ever feature acting role — who is an Information Technology professional in real life — portrays Stu with natural ease; he officially got the gig back in 2005, when Taika and Jemaine were making the original short and needed another ‘actor’ to portray a human character. His ability to just inhabit the character of Stu and ‘be himself’ is what eventually lead to the character being reprised for the feature rework of the project. From the frustrated police officers to the supernatural fiends themselves, this dynamic ensemble delivers rock-solid chemistry and steady laughs.

Adhering to, and respecting the vampire mythos, What We Do in the Shadows still manages to portray blood-suckers in a hilarious new light, mocking every vampire gag in the book, while softly exposing several truths about human nature and hysterical realities regarding house-sharing and life in New Zealand, all within its lean running time. Laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly bloody and somewhat gentle, What We Do in the Shadows effortlessly does for vampires, what This Is Spinal Tap did for rock ‘n’ roll.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

What We Do in the Shadows is released through Madman Entertainment Australia