The same week that Twilight fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey is being released in theaters, another movie comes out which clearly shares some of that inspiration. After all, What We Do in the Shadows has a character, annoying Nick, who describes himself as “that guy from Twilight.” There’s also some werewolf rivalry, debates about socializing with humans, and a very eager human female who is practically begging to be transformed. But those are only surface similarities, and thankfully, What We Do in the Shadows lampoons and borrows from an entire assortment of vampire films (good and bad). And I’m happy to say, What We Do in the Shadows isn’t just one of the best examples of the vampire film in some time…it’s one of the funniest movies in ages.
Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi clearly have a sincere fondness for “vampire stories,” taking the mythologies of old and new stories and incorporating them with liberal glee for a mockumentary which would make Christopher Guest proud. In the line between satire and parody, this film clearly falls under the category of a loving parody for vampire movies ranging from Nosferatu to Shadow of a Vampire, Dracula to Twilight, and even featuring some youngsters in a call back to stories such as Interview with a Vampire and Let the Right One In.
But What We Do In The Shadows also has elements of classic comedy team films such as The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters. Perhaps the funniest scene is the movie is a ridiculous dance performed by Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), which is so odd and hilarious, it strikes me as exactly the kind of thing a buddy would do to entertain his friends. Deacon is the youngest vampire (183) roommate among a group in New Zealand, and a bit of a frat-boy type. He shares his flat with 8,000 year old Petyr (Ben Fransham) who can’t be bothered with the outside world.
There’s also Vladislav the Poker (Jemaine Clement), described by his roommates as a bit of a medieval pervert (just a little bit). And finally 317 year old Viago (Waititi) called a dandy by his roommates because he just wants a clean house. And then there is Nick (Cori Gonzales-Macuer), a present day Vampire they all hate, but put up with because of his mortal friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who they all think is super-cool. Oh, and Deacon has a handler Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) an Igor type, and there are a bunch of werewolves who hang out in the park.
I can’t call the movie anything but ridiculous silly, and the reason it is such a good movie is simply because at 85 minutes, it’s consistently funny. The visual and verbal humor work together perfectly in tandem, and while there are moments of just pure silliness, Clement and Waititi maintain a high quality of character consistency and production value. As a whole, the movie looks fabulous, and the effects are high quality (and certainly don’t hint at the film’s 1.6 million dollar budget). But the most surprising aspect of the film is how the documentary style actually enhances the comedy, even when characters question why they are filming. We see a lot of movies today which use found footage as nothing more than a cost-saving device. But here, the documentary approach is used to further the story, breaking up time and incorporating historical mock-ups and hilarious “real-world” type interviews.
But the characters are really what makes this movie work as well as it does, and why it is a true step above most horror-comedies. They are incredibly well-written, and there are surprising moments of both brutality and empathy for and from the characters. All the actors have great chemistry (especially the three roommates) and there isn’t a performer who doesn’t “commit” despite how silly the movie is. It’s always been Clement’s strength as performer to play deadpan no matter how big he went (reminding me a lot of Dan Aykroyd’s SNL period) but everyone commits to the same level…especially Brugh, who I honestly found myself laughing at just his reactions.
The story is pretty simplistic and I don’t want to give away the jokes, considering how well they work. But what I can say about this hilarious movie is that it is a complete winner and it would be hard to find someone I wouldn’t recommend it to. Even werewolves and vampires would probably find the movie pretty funny, not to mention identifiable.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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