Just when you thought the vampire genre had been bled dry, What We Do in the Shadows not only freshens it up, but also pays tribute to eons of vampire lore. Overflowing with inspired hilarity, this Christopher Guest style mockumentary is the not only the funniest comedy I’ve seen in years, it’s also simply a great movie.
Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr are four vampiric flatmates of varying ages, who have agreed to let a documentary crew (who are all wearing crucifixes, and have been ‘granted protection’ prior to filming) chronicle the months leading up to the Unholy Masquerade, an annual gathering of New Zealand’s undead community. Despite typically being the coolest of the classic film monsters, our protagonists are anything but. Each is a comedic version of a classic vampire trope: Viago and Deacon (aged 317 and 183, respectively) are a tweak on Anne Rice, Vladislav (aged 862) is essentially Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Petyr (aged 8000) is ripped straight from Nosferatu. Having been limited by the nights-only vampiric schedule, the modern world has passed them by. Until one day when Petyr turns a hip, young party person into a vampire, and effectively shakes up their entire existence.
To say any more about the plot would be revealing too much. Not that there are any surprises per se, but the movie is so chock full of fun ideas that it’s best to let them happen without prerequisite. Every conceivable piece of vampire folklore is used to a comedic end — sure, we all know that vampires have no reflection, but Shadows is the first to suggest that as a result, vampires don’t have a sense what they look like, and are reduced to sketching one another before hitting the town.
By walking the line between satire and parody, filmmakers Taika Watiti and Jemaine Clement show a true reverence for the vampire myth, without stepping into Vampires Suck territory. The combination of wickedly dry verbal gags, over the top physical schtick, and endearingly consistent character work makes What We Do in the Shadows a ton of fun and consistently laugh-out-loud hilarious. I truly cannot wait to revisit it to see the gags that I missed.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the film is that it captures the tragic elements of a vampire’s life. Whereas things like True Blood tend to focus on the glamor of the undead lifestyle, Shadows finds humanity in the sadness of it – it’s tough to have a social life when you can’t enter a bar without being invited; It’s sad to watch everyone you know grow old and die while you live on; who wants to live a life where eating even a single french fry can make you vomit gallons of blood?* These guys deceive and kill people regularly, but always out of necessity, never malice. Viago even goes so far as to wine and dine his victims before draining them because, seeing as how it’s the end of their life, he “might as well make it enjoyable”**.
Fans of Clement’s work in Flight of the Conchords will bask in the similar dry wit, and more mainstream audiences will likely find it to be just as much fun. At a brisk 85 minutes, there’s is absolutely no fat, and the film runs zero risk of wearing out its welcome. Impressively inventive, and filled end to end with remarkably committed performances from some very funny actors and actresses, What We Do in the Shadows is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and the funniest I’ve seen in ages. It is endlessly rewatchable, and in the hours since seeing it, I’ve found myself giggling at the thought of it. I have a feeling that my friends and I will be quoting it the same way we do with Wet, Hot, American Summer or Dumb and Dumber. Go see this as soon as you can, preferably in a packed theater.
*Best vomit gag since Team America: World Police. High praise, I know.
**Probably a horrendous misquote, but you get it.
What We Do in the Shadows opens today in Philadelphia area theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.