There are many reasons why this movie shouldn’t work, which makes it even more impressive that it’s so good.
First, it’s a mockumentary. Ever since This is Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest resurrected and perfected the genre with movies like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind close to 20 years ago, the mockumentary has been overdone. As hilarious as The Office is (both the UK and US versions), for many shows and movies that followed, the mocumentary format became a crutch, a go-to for easy and predictable laughs.
Second, What We Do in the Shadows is a horror comedy. Those are two genres that don’t go together very well, which is why there are so few examples of good horror comedies. Horror relies on how seriously you treat the tension it builds, while comedy is irreverent in the face of tension.
The movie opens with Viago (Taika Waititi) giving a tour of the dark, Wellington, New Zealand flat he shares with his three roommates. This leads into a flat meeting where the kind but anal-retentive Viago goes over a list of responsibilities and consults a chore wheel with his fellow vampires. It’s the first of many hilarious scenes.
Jemaine Clement plays Vladislav, the oldest vampire in the group and a mostly reformed violent tyrant. Jonny Brugh plays Deacon, who, at 183 years old, is the impetuous youth of the group. Petyr, a terrifying-looking Nosferatu-like vampire, is 8,000 years old and spends most of his time in a tomb in the basement.
Clement plays Valdislav with such commitment that you could easily imagine this character in a straight up horror movie. He is violent and bloodthirsty, but also vulnerable at times, to hilarious effect. Clement’s Flight of the Conchords co-star Rhys Darby is the leader of a rival gang of werewolves they keep bumping into. I don’t know if Rhys Darby has ever appeared in a scene he hasn’t completely stolen.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about What We Do in the Shadows is that it satirizes the mockumentary and horror genres without being very obvious about it. Vampires, zombies and werewolves have been all over popular culture for the past decade, to the point that they’ve lost their edge. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine these supernatural creatures in a domestic setting. And what better way to tell the story than the mockumentary, a genre that lately has been lazily blurring the line between the ordinary and the unusual.
At just 86 minutes, What We Do in the Shadows moves along quickly. It’s constructed very well, in that various plot threads introduced throughout the movie are revisited and resolved at the end. But there are many interesting characters and situations that are so funny, I wanted to see more of them. Vladislav’s history of run-ins with The Beast could be its own movie. Even small characters like the two unnamed police officers are so funny, you can easily imagine them in their own sitcom.
Comedy sequels in general don’t have a great track record, but I really hope we see more of What We Do in the Shadows.
|Title||What We Do in the Shadows|
|Directors||Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi|
|Writers||Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi|
|Starring||Jemaine Clement, Taiki Waititi, Jonny Brugh|
|Production||Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die|