It’s fair to say that vampires have been rather done to death by Hollywood in recent years, if you’ll pardon the pun, so you’d be forgiven for approaching What We Do in the Shadows with some trepidation. There’s nothing to fear here though, as this comedy from New Zealand is as irreverent as it is fresh, tackling the bloodsuckers’ mythos from a rather novel perspective: a flatshare.
What We Do in the Shadows stars and is directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi – the former still best known for his work on Flight of the Conchords, while the latter directed a few episodes of that show along with a couple of feature films, 2007’s Eagle vs Shark and 2010’s Boy.
Here we find Clement’s Vladislav and Waititi’s Viago, together with Jonathan Brugh’s Deacon, as three flatmates in modern New Zealand who just happen to be vampires. They’re joined by the Nosferatu-esque Petyr, who lives in the basement, and later the recently turned Nick.
The film’s moments of true genius come in finding the vampiric twists on mundane problems of modern communal living, like Deacon not having done his share of the blood-soaked dishes. They deal with the culture clashes surrounding their age gaps – how does a 200-year-old relate to his 500-year-old flatmate? Then there’s the familiar rituals around getting ready for a night on the town – except without reflections, the vampires are stuck drawing pictures of each other in their various outfits. And that’s not even struggling to get past a club bouncer because he refuses to invite them in.
The film was shot in a ‘mockumentary’ style, and is self-aware enough to crack a few jokes about it. Since the plot is light on set pieces, there’s little of the ‘shaky cam’ action sequences that the style attracts criticism for, but it does crop up at a few moments – usually to help hide the low budget effects, one suspects, which works for all but one scene, as a werewolf attack is a little too obviously just a bunch of guys in furry suits in a park.
The comedy is at times hit and miss, with a few stretches where the hits were few and far between, and it’s this lack of consistency that really lets the film down. The cast hit their marks throughout, but are let down by a script that never quite finds a rhythm. When everything clicks into place, and it does on multiple occasions, What We Do in the Shadows will leave you doubled over, and giggling for hours afterwards. If the whole film could hit those high notes, we’d be looking at the best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead, but as it is there are just a few too many lulls to really hit it home.
Those highlights really are worth the price of admission on their own though. Rhys Darby’s Anton, alpha male of the local werewolf pack, has to repeatedly remind his fellow wolves that they’re “werewolves, not swear-wolves!” and chastise them for wearing nice jeans that they’re just going to tear when they transform. The running references to ‘The Beast’ made me laugh harder than anything else in months, while Clement’s ‘Vladislav the Poker’ is the centre of what may well be the only successful joke about social media I’ve ever seen on film.
For those who aren’t afraid of a little gore in their comedies, What We Do in the Shadows is definitely a treat. It’s flawed, undeniably inconsistent, and never quite lives up to its initial promise, but the charm and creativity on display here ensure that the film will stay on your mind for days to come.
What We Do in the Shadows is released in UK cinemas on November 21st