Those bloodsucking beasts known as vampires have been kicking around the movie universe since the silent era. They’ve taken many forms from feral beasts to shirtless sparkly-skinned dreamboats who can’t act. Yet, somehow filmmakers always find something new to do with our beloved ‘creatures of the night.’ In What We Do In The Shadows co-writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have given vamps the Christopher Guest treatment. Their hilarious film brings a little mundane mockumentary humor into vampire lore and delivers what might go down as the funniest film of 2015. It’s still early, so some more yukfests should clog up screens soon. However, I find it hard to believe that many will match the pants-wetting charms of this New Zealand delight.
What We Do In The Shadows picks up the trail of a household of domestically awkward vamps kicking around small town New Zealand. They’ve been best buds for centuries and now share a house in a quiet New Zealand town where they go about their blood-suckling business casually and with plenty of discomfort. Viago (Taika Waititi) is a dandy from an era when dandies ruled the world, who can’t quite fit into non-dandy times. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) was a “poker” from an age of impalers whose hypnotic sex god charms, mind-control skills, and transformation powers haven’t quite been the same since he was broken by an ex-girlfriend known as ‘The Beast.’ Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the sassy youngster of the group at a mere 183 with plenty of attitude. Meanwhile in the basement dwells the ancient Petyr (Ben Fransham) an 8000-year-old beastly Nosferatu relic who turned most of the team over time. Together the gang bitches about dirty dishes and struggle to get invited into nightclubs over the course of their pathetically funny little lives. Circling our weirdoes are the middle-aged human slave Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), the freshly turned douchey vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), his loveably monosyllabic computer expert friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), and a pack of werewolves led by the great Rhys Darby who the fanged fellows like to feud with.
It’s all pretty silly and endearing stuff that unfolds episodically and delightfully. Clement and Waititi know that the secret to this brand of comedy lies in the rambling diversions rather than a piecemeal plot, so that’s their focus. Eventually it all peaks Christopher Guest style with a municipal monster party at a local wedding hall, but even then the best material is in the details (like how zombies are presented as the outcasts of the underworld). The cast is ridiculously good from top to bottom, each creating a distinctly awkward character perfectly designed to clash with the rest. It’s clear that improv played a healthy role in the shenanigans and yet Clement and Waititi also reveal their genre-fan roots by staging a handful of genuinely effective effects sequences. This gang is all from New Zealand of course, which thanks to Peter Jackson has become a special effects Mecca. So with a meager budget and big ambitions, the team pulled off some pretty great tricks involving rotating sets, flying fights, strange transformations, and of course geysers of spewing blood. The spectacle is all deliberately tossed off to look casual and fits into the style of the piece. Yet, look closely and you’ll see some impressive work along with some delightfully disgusting gore gags that recall Peter Jackson’s long lost gory glory days.
What We Do In The Shadows is a film that unapologetically goes for laughs at all times. Sure, the characters are incredibly well written and performed and the world is evocatively designed, but one of the most refreshingly things about the flick is it’s complete lack of pretensions. It’s clearly a project made by passionate friends who grew up wearing down Spinal Tap VHS tapes while flipping through the pages of Fangoria. The fact that the movie combines the genres Clement and Waititi love makes it all personal and you can feel the glee from everyone involved. This is a movie designed for cult status by a group of obscenely talented comedians and filmmakers raised on consuming cult movies at a feverish rate. They’ve made something pretty damn special that will hopefully find it’s own cult quickly. This is the vamp mock doc you’ve been waiting for even if you didn’t realize you’ve been waiting for it. Jump aboard as soon as possible and if we’re lucky this gang will be allowed to do it again.
The film debuts on Blu-ray in a surprisingly robust package for an indie comedy from New Zealand. The transfer is nice, though obviously the deliberately low-fi documentary aesthetic isn’t designed to show off a home theater system like the latest Marvel Blockbuster. Where the disc really shines is the special feature section. The original short film made to secure financing is included, which repeats some of the basic plot beats in a far more handmade way (though the improvisation-heavy style of production ensures that most of the laughs are quite different) and proves just how strong a grasp of the concept the guys had years in advance of the actual production. After that comes over an hour’s worth of deleted scenes, extended interviews, and other oddball bits and bobs like a seduction dance sequence that needs to be seen to be believed. For fans of What We Do In The Shadows, there’s almost as much extra content on the disc as there are scenes in the movie and that’s nothing to complain about. With a little luck, it’ll help build up a cult for this movie because few horror comedies of the last few years have deserved it quite as much.