By Don Simpson | February 17, 2015
Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Writers: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Rhys Darby, Jackie van Beek
Set up as a fully immersive, fly-on-the-wall documentary about four flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand who just so happen to be vampires, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows is one of the few mockumentaries with enough comedic gusto and verve to challenge — or at least share — Christopher Guest’s throne. Though it never takes itself seriously as an ethnographic film, What We Do in the Shadows succeeds because of its keen observational skills and profound characterization of the vampires. The subjects are presented with utmost authenticity and depth, revealing the totally realistic complexities of having undead flatmates.
Viago (Taika Waititi) is the nitpicky 18th century dandy of the bunch who tries to keep the house in order, which sometimes proves to be quite difficult when residing with a renowned medieval torturer who has an affinity for “poking,” Vladislav (Jemaine Clement); a rebellious bad boy, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh); and a silent, primordial vampire named Petyr (Ben Fransham). Things become even messier when a brand new vampire, a bratty hipster named Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), ingratiates himself into their household — it seems the only reason that Nick is able to stick around is because the other vampires really like his human friend, Stu (Stu Rutherford).
Too much has already been said about What We Do in the Shadows; this is a film that will probably work best for those with limited preconceptions or expectations. At this point, “mockumentary” and “vampire” are so played out in filmmaking that those words are sure to repel potential viewers like a silver crucifix laced with garlic keeps vampires at bay. That said, you would be surprised just how original and entertaining Clement and Waititi’s material is. Yes, they use Twilight, The Vampire Chronicles, Dracula, Nosferatu, Blade and The Lost Boys as obvious reference points, but there is not a drop of derivative blood in What We Do in the Shadows cinematic veins. Clement and Waititi know precisely when to restrain themselves with subtle humor or veer towards tongue-in-cheek mockery or go bombastically over-the-top; heck, even the special effects and cinematography are really spot-on.
Sure, the plot is kind of slight and seems void of any sort of meaning or message, but that does not keep What We Do in the Shadows from being one of the best comedies in recent memory and the funniest vampire film ever made. Judging from personal experience, What We Do in the Shadows holds up extremely well to repeat viewings and it is so damn overwhelmingly quotable; but while it would be totally awesome if What We Do in the Shadows achieved the commercial success that it truly deserves, Clement and Waititi’s film is most likely destined to enjoy an immortal lifespan as a cult classic.