“Vampires don’t do dishes.”
I’m starting to think knowing as little as possible about a film before watching it is the best way to go (she wrote, while writing a film review). For example, all I knew about The World’s End before I saw it was that it was co-written by Simon Pegg. When – a good twenty minutes or more in – alien robots started appearing I was genuinely surprised (and pleased, because really who isn’t pleased when alien robots appear in what has so far been a movie about men in pubs). Similarly with What We Do in the Shadows – I knew the creators of Flight of the Conchords had something to do with it, and that it was about vampires. That was all. So when Taika Waititi rose out of a coffin with a cheesy grin and explained (mockumentary style) why he likes living in a “flatting situation” with his vampire friends I was giggling uncontrollably. So this is what this is, I thought. Awesome.
What We Do in the Shadows is the funniest film I’ve seen since Alpha Papa – the kind of film that requires multiple viewings because there are too many hilarious lines to digest in one sitting. I’ve watched Flight of the Conchords so many times I know many of the scenes by heart. What We Do in the Shadows is that kind of funny.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi (Boy and Eagle vs Shark) and Jemaine Clements (Flight of the Conchords), What We Do in the Shadows is presented as a production of The New Zealand Documentary Board, who have been granted access to a secret society of vampires living in Wellington (said vampires have promised not to eat the cameramen for the duration of filming). The inhabitants of the vampire share house are: Viago (Taika Waititi), a 378 year old 18th century dandy who came to New Zealand for love; Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), just 183 years old and the ‘young’ bad boy of the group; Vladislav (Jemaine Clements), 862, a specialist in torture and haunted by the memory of his arch nemesis The Beast; and Petyr (Ben Fransham), a particularly ancient and ghoulish-looking vampire who spends most of his time curled up in the basement.
What We Do in the Shadows is loosely structured around the lead-up to the most prestigious annual event of the un-dead community: the Unholy Masquerade. But the real focus of the film is everyday life in a vampire share house. It is in these chore-wheel details and one liners that What We Do in the Shadows really works.
For a fairly low budget film What We Do in the Shadows manages to look and feel carefully crafted from beginning to end. The vampire fight (and flight) scenes, for example, work really well. The house feels sufficiently stale and creepy – the lighting is good and the furniture and props are just right. The soundtrack really stood out for me in this film, too. The music is dark and discordant, and yet somehow still catchy.
The casting is fantastic. Every actor brings their own little twist of humour to the film. Especially funny (as usual) is Rhys Darby as the head werewolf (“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”) and police officers O’Leary and Minogue (played by Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue).
This film might be criticised for its lack of story – the plot certainly comes second to the characters and their day-to-day activities. I was too busy laughing, however, to really be bothered by a lack of big reveals. (I wonder if there might be a TV series lurking in this film?)
I did think that some of the moments of pathos could have been more powerful. Deacon’s speech about age and death, for example, and the shots of Viago’s love interest now living alone in a retirement village could be more poignant. Because this film is so funny and clever it has the potential to drive those more sobering themes home.
Overall, however, I really loved this film. I will definitely be watching it again, and will be encouraging everyone I know to do the same.
What We Do in the Shadows premiered at Sundance in 2014. It was filmed in Wellington, New Zealand.