"What We Do in the Shadows" Is Funnier Than Not Review

When did we decide that vampires were our Valentines? One quick search on the trusty Internet provides robust evidence of the genre’s eroticism, all the way back to its origins in the 18th century. Numerous essays have been written to delve into the sexuality of these creatures of the night and what it symbolizes, running the gamut from citation-heavy scholarly texts on JStor to posts throughout the pop culture blogosphere. However, the most recent modern interpretations of the vampire legend seem to belong less to the dark world of erotic horror and more to the warmly glowing realm of romance. All of the brutal violence and demonic power one has traditionally associated with Nosferatu, Dracula and their brethren has taken a backseat to poetic dialogue and literally spending eternity with one’s true love--who, of course, has perfect abs. Overall, today’s vampires are more likely to incite sighs of longing than screams of terror.

A much-needed infusion of fresh blood to the genre, the vampires of What We Do in the Shadows won’t scare you or romance you, but they will make you laugh. Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame, with much of that series’ healthy sense of absurdity, What We Do in the Shadows takes every sexy-sinister vampire trope in the book and sends them up in the form of a mockumentary. It follows four vampire flatmates from very different backgrounds as they clash over their chore wheel, beg bouncers to explicitly invite them into nightclubs and taunt the local werewolf pack like fans of a rival sports team. (Don’t worry: we’re warned at the beginning that members of the film crew were wearing crucifixes for their safety.) These vampires are aware of the way pop culture commonly views them and attempt to use it to their advantage, playing tricks that they stole from The Lost Boys on unsuspecting humans and luring prospective victims home from clubs by claiming to be Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

Clement brings his usual insanity to the role of Vladislav, a medieval torturer obsessed with a former enemy known as the Beast who has deprived him of his powers of hypnosis. As Viago, an 18th century dandy, Waititi plays the most Cullen-like vampire of the group, longing for a former love who resides in a retirement home and laying romance thickly onto his human victims before sucking them dry of blood. (“It’s their last moment alive, so why not make it a pleasant experience?”) Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), a younger and more rebellious 19th-century vampire, leaves blood-caked dishes in the sink and accuses new recruit Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) of stealing his style, while Nick struggles to find a way to come out of the coffin, as it were, and tell his best friend that he is now a blood-sucking monster. And one mustn’t forget Petyr (Ben Fransham), an 8,000 year old monster who bears a striking resemblance to Nosferatu and only emerges from his crypt in the basement to find his next meal.

What We Do in the Shadows is incredibly light on plot, feeling more like a string of comedy vignettes very loosely tied together than a feature-length narrative film. Fortunately, the film doesn’t really need much of a story to be enjoyable; the characters are all so unique and hilarious that just taking in various slices of their lives is entertaining enough. Of course, it also helps that the film is a delightfully succinct 85 minutes long, and so doesn’t ever come close to outstaying its welcome; if it were longer, one imagines this schtick could eventually grow tiresome. The film’s tone is reminiscent of The Office if that classic sitcom chronicled the misadventures of a group of misfit vampires in Wellington, New Zealand rather than misfit paper salespeople in England’s Slough. It takes the high drama associated with the vampire genre and brings it very, very low, highlighting the mundane elements of the creatures’ eternal lives (taking the bus into downtown Wellington to go clubbing, watching YouTube videos of the sunrises they will never seen again, learning to take selfies to make up for no longer having a reflection) more than the exciting bits. One imagines that if Viago, Vladislav and company came sniffing around Bella Swan at school, she would have been less inclined to sit around mooning over becoming immortal and more likely to file a restraining order (though one can argue that she should have done that anyways). If What We Do in the Shadows is the next step in the evolution of the vampire genre, I’m perfectly happy with that.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES

The Blu-ray release of What We Do in the Shadows includes commentary by Clement and Waititi, a featurette titled “Behind the Shadows,” deleted scenes, video extras, interviews, promo videos and a poster gallery.

"What We Do in the Shadows" is on sale July 21, 2015 and is rated R. Comedy, Horror. Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Written by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Starring Cori Gonzalez Macuer, Jemaine Clement.

Aug
03
2015
Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

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