“Our friend has just been killed in a fatal sunlight accident.”
Vampires were originally the kings of horror, dating back to the silent masterpiece and original vampire film Nosferatu in 1922. Since then they’ve become romanticized and sexualized, losing their eerie mysteriousness and haunting terror, often replaced with bloodlust and desultory violence. What surprised me most about What We Do in the Shadows, besides its fresh comedy, is its ability to infuse the jokes while addressing vampire lore, through both cinema and written history. This mockumentary combines the vampire’s undead fountain of youth with the energy of the tree of life. The more I think back on it, the funnier I remember it being. But based on my experience, in the moment, I have to admit that I felt it underachieved based on its resume.
A small documentary crew is granted access to four vampire flatmates living together in New Zealand. The crew is promised protection and must wear crucifixes at all times. Viago (Taika Waititi) is the central character of the group. He’s a bit of a prude and proudly wears the 18th century garb from before he was turned. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the playboy of the group, and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is considered the young cool guy. The film is almost entirely those three, while the fourth roommate Petyr, an 8,000 year old homage to the aforementioned Nosferatu, spends most of his time stiffly upright in his concrete coffin.
The choice to make this into a mockumentary is a suitable one that gives the talented comedians and filmmakers all of the free reign to improvise and create as they could possibly desire. But like all movies, a mockumentary still has to have a solid story that makes the normally less than 90 minute sit worthwhile. Look at the work of the legendary Christopher Guest for example. Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, plus a starring role in Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap. Those are four of the best that this genre has ever produced. And the reason is that if you took paint thinner to the jokes and shooting style, there would still be a fully thought out and complete canvas for the artists to paint on. One with a beginning, middle and end. What We Do in the Shadows starts with a bang, but I can’t help but think it’s more of a short sketch that’s been stretched out to feature length.
From the hilarious helmers of Flight of the Conchords, you get the fall out of your seat one liners and gags you expect from Clement and Waititi. What We Do in the Shadows is a good comedy, but there are some long, lifeless lulls. I didn’t care about the culminating Unholy Masquerade, or the Sharks versus Jets feuding with werewolves, or Viago’s pining for lost love. None of it matters or changes the trajectory of the story. What works is when we see the interactions between the living dead, and their personalities from ranging time periods clashing with one another as well as their introduction to modernity. With a tighter script and sharper focus on the evolution of the main characters, What We Do in the Shadows would have achieved cult film immorality, would have sank its fangs into fandoms and future audiences. It’s easily the funniest film I’ve seen so far this year, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it disappointingly left my mind the minute its coffin lid shut.
“I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.”
Rating: 3 out of 5