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Review: What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

Directed by: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

Premise: A pseudo-documentary about a group of vampires renting a house.

What Works: What We Do in the Shadows is a funny sendup of the vampire genre. The film has an offbeat sense of humor but that tone is appropriate for the movie. The film is done in the style of a pseudo-documentary in which an unseen filmmaking crew documents the lives of a group of vampires sharing a house in Wellington, New Zealand and the movie mimics the look of reality television shows with it cinema verite style interspersed with interviews and commentary by the vampires. What We Do in the Shadows is predicated on a simple idea—how would vampires live in the 21st century?—and the filmmakers are able to follow that prompt to some very funny answers. One of the aspects that is most admirable about this movie is how consistently funny it is. The concept of What We Do in the Shadows could have burned out very quickly and the movie has a brief running time but nearly every scene of this picture has at least one howler of a line or an equally funny sight gag. The film is also impressive in the way it is able to incorporate the violence without spoiling the humor. As a movie about vampires, bloodsucking is unavoidable but instead of that ruining the movie or spoiling the tone, the filmmakers integrate it into the story in ways that actually make the movie sillier. The vampires included in What We Do in the Shadows come from a variety of historical periods and each has a distinct look from the Nosferatu-like night creature Petyr (Ben Fransham), to Dracula-inspired Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), to contemporary recruit Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer). The sampling of vampires in this movie is a cross section of the different versions of the vampire that have been popular over the years and the filmmakers utilize that for humor as each of them responds to a situation based on the kind of vampire that they are. What We Do in the Shadows tells a focused story but at the same time it allows for some great asides. The vampires have an ongoing feud with a local pack of werewolves and this plays really well. The werewolves have their own kooky dynamic that parallels the conflicts in the vampire’s apartment. The film also includes a subplot with a human servant of the vampires (Jackie van Beek) who is frustrated that she hasn’t been turned into the undead yet. She is treated less like an accomplice to murder and more as an underappreciated personal assistant and that contrast results in some funny moments that give the film some additional texture.

What Doesn’t: Whether or not a viewer will enjoy What We Do in the Shadows is going to largely depend upon his or her tolerance for the mockumentary style and whether the viewer gets the deadpan sense of humor. Jemaine Clement co-wrote and co-directed this film along with Taika Waititi and the two of them collaborated before on the television show Flight of the Conchords and the feature film Eagle vs. Shark. What We Do in the Shadows has the same style of comedy and it requires a fairly specific sense of humor; it is easy to imagine viewers either loving or loathing this movie with few reactions falling in between. As a mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows is actually a bit routine. The comedy comes from the absurdity of putting vampires in mundane domestic situations but a lot of the story consists of stock domestic conflicts. This film does not do much with the vampire myth. It isn’t compelled to; simply placing vampires in this situation and letting their reactions play out results in great comedy. But the humor of What We Do in the Shadows is safe and not all that departed from television shows like Modern Family.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes, interviews, and a poster gallery.

Bottom Line: Fans of vampire movies and offbeat humor shouldn’t miss What We Do in the Shadows. The movie’s sense of humor may be particular but those who get it are going to find it very funny.

Episode: #562 (October 4, 2015)