Review: What We Do in the Shadows (2014).
~ by John Stringer.
2014’s What We Do In The Shadows written by and starring Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Fot Conchords) is a short black comedy about a group of vampires flatting together in Wellington, New Zealand.
- Viago, a dandy Victorian vamp. (Waititi);
- Vladislav, a Roumanian vamp. (Clement);
- Deacon an eastern European vamp. (Jonathan Brugh) who knits and whose excellent gypsy-cum-Indian folk dance prefaces the movie’s opening template (hilarious); and
- Petyras the 800-year-old Nosferatu vamp (Ben Fransham).
Together they rework the Flight of the Conchords wannabee-musicians-in-NY cycle but in NZ via a contemporary goth vamp romp. Also featuring is ‘Murray’ (Rhys Darby) as the alpha male pack leader of a group of counter-gang Westside Story werewolves (“not swear wolves!”).
It’s hilarious and there are some great lines in the film. “Leave me to do my dark bidding… on TradeMe–I’m bidding on a table” and jokes about age disparities, blood, werewolves, trying to get invited in to nightclubs, the police coming by to check on fire alarms and whether they’re installed correctly, etc.
The essence of the film is that now hallmark New Zealand (Napoleon Dynamite) ordinariness juxtaposed with the ludicrousness of historic vampires adjusting to mundane life flatting in Wellington (“Stu’s in to computers and stuff”). There are flat meetings (“Do your bloody dishes!”), chore rosters (“I dragged a body down the hall, so in a way, I swept the dust up“) and farcical attempts to attract ‘wictims’ to their flat. I laughed a lot.
One of the downsides of being a vampire, is you cannot eat chips. One chip, and a rookie vamp. suffers projectile blood vomiting of Peter Jackson Brain Dead proportions. It’s also difficult on relationships to eat friends, the main one of whom is appropriately called “Stu.” Stu helps the vampires catch up with technology; they can watch sunsets on-line, and send txt messages, and most importantly, Google virgins.
It is maladjusted immigrants and geeks adjusting to Nu Ziland but remaining true to themselves and having lifestyle issues, filmed as a reality TV documentary; The Osbornes meets Blair Witch and Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I liked the “Unholy Masquerade Ball” organised by the Karori Zombie Association, Wellington Vampire Society and Upper Hutt Werewolves Group which has a showdown when the flatmates bring Stu, a human, to the undead ball (ie vestiges of Cinderella). There is also a great “vampire fight!” as two vamp.s flit in and out of bat and human mode.
Lots of visual puns over vampire reflections in mirrors; virgin jokes; “bisketti and spaghetti;” stakes and crucifixes; and several workings of the vampire powers of hypnotism (stronger and weaker in various vamps) “No, the electriceety bill is p-a-i-d. …No, you will not cut off the telephone, we-paaaid-the-bill!”
I got the joke after a minute (but kept laughing all the way) but this would perhaps have been better as a more compressed one hour TV programme (47 minutes with ads) rather than a full length film. It also lacked a central narrative and would have been richer if there was a stronger story woven through, perhaps a romantic narrative or a quandary. Otherwise it’s just an episodic extended joke.
I did like the editing cutaways to magazines and historical books early on, which cleverly conveys the historical backstory in a quick run. The music is perfect and the actors are all great; Jonathan Brugh and Clement especially turn in talented performances. But my favourite vamp was actually Petyr, who never speaks.
The title is clumsy, why not just Wellington Vamps or Capital Blood? Sometimes the setups for the jokes are a bit laboured. I would have also omitted the dvd Extras as they diminish the finished product. As a more edit-compressed faster TV one hour, this would have become a cult classic. But as a film, it’s just too stretched, but nevertheless a hilarious Saturday night TV watchwith popcorn. 6/10.
Here’s the trailer.