For every one truly great mockumentary that gets made, we are subject to a dozen or more duds. When an enthusiastic friend recommended a New Zealand vampire buddy comedy filmed in mockumentary style, it took me a few years to get around to watching What We Do in the Shadows. Now, I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it sooner. I have turned into that enthusiastic friend who recommends this movie to everyone I meet. It is the horror movie for people who don’t really like horror movies.
What We Do in the Shadows follows the everyday lives of Viago, Deacon, Vladislav, and Petyr, four friends who are introduced during a roommate meeting, where they are arguing about normal household problems like who hasn’t done the dishes. The only difference is they’re all vampires ranging in age from 183 to 8,000, and the dishes are a stinking mess of bloody plates and cups that haven’t been washed for over 5 years.
Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the “young rebel” who likes to dance, knit, and lead on his devoted human familiar/servant.
Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is former torturer with a talent for mind control and a rivalry with a mysterious entity only known as “The Beast.”
Viago (Taika Waititi) is the uptight mother hen of the group, who is uncomfortably awkward when he remembers the cameras are rolling.
And Petyr (Ben Fransham)? He’s a Nosferatu version of a vampire who lives in the cellar and refuses to clean up his spinal columns. Petry is the crotchety old man who doesn’t give a crap what people think about him, but is an integral part of the friend group nonetheless.
A wrench is thrown into their lives when they accidentally turn one of their victims into a new vampire who refuses to leave behind his best mate, a lovable human who doesn’t seem to mind that he has been thrust into the world of the undead.
The pair pull their new vampire friends into the modern world, but not without disagreements that at times turn into full-blown hissing bat fights and misunderstandings about what you can really find using Google.
Rhys Darby, best known as the band manager from Clement’s Flight of the Conchords, also makes an appearance as Anton, the leader of a rival werewolf pack. The werewolves and vampires have snarling confrontations on the street, like two rival gangs who know exactly how to push one another’s buttons with taunting insults.
The friends deal with normal problems with paranormal twists. They can’t get into local nightclubs (because vampires have to be invited in). They fret about how they look for a night out on the town (because vampires don’t have reflections in a mirror). They have hopes, fears, dreams, disappointments, hobbies, and love lives just like you and I, albeit slightly more blood-soaked.
If a documentary’s job is to help you empathize with and understand the subject, What We Do in the Shadows is right on the money; Viewers are transported to a world where vampires really could be real and dealing with the ups and downs of life that we all face. It is a comedy, but above all, it is believable, which is what makes it so deliciously funny. You are guaranteed to commiserate with at least one of these wacky characters as they struggle to adjust to whatever life throws their way. I’m definitely a Viago.
While watching the movie, which was written by Waititi and Clement,I kept getting the sense that this all started as a “what if” joke between friends, one of those scripts that was written over the course of a night with a few bottles of wine and uncontrollable giggling.
I mean that in the best way possible.
What We Do in the Shadows is filled with clever details, witty dialogue, and just enough campy gore to keep true horror fans happy. If I had one criticism, it would be that it feels like they were trying to pack too many jokes into the film, sometimes at the expense of the plot. The film doesn’t give you a moment to rest between gags, and you’re guaranteed to miss something the first time you watch it.
But then there are moments like Vladislav doing his “dark bidding” on eBay or Viago wanting to go to a costume party as Blade, and you have to wonder what gems were left on the editing room floor. The movie leaves you hungry for more.
We might get to satisfy that hunger, as a sequel is in the works, this time following the werewolf pack and tentatively title We’re Wolves (though I admit, I’m partial to the original working title, What We Do in the Moonlight). Waititi and Clement are also working on Paranormal Event Response Unit, a television show based on two cops who had very minor (but hilarious) roles in the movie. My only hope is that these projects don’t take away from the charm of the original, as sequels and spin-offs are sometimes known to do. Some films are meant to stand alone.
Will What We Do in the Shadows truly achieve cult classic status? I’m not sure. It’s perhaps too quirky for mainstream acceptance and not quirky enough for a Rocky-Horror-esque following to form. For me, it is the perfect mix of camp and horror. What We Do in the Shadows is currently free for Amazon Prime members, and totally worth the rental price for everyone else.
Allison is a freelance copywriter and content consultant. She runs food blog The PinterTest Kitchen and enjoys gaming and fiction writing in her free time.