Comfortable and Furious

What We Do in the Shadows


86 Minutes, Not Rated

Is this film worth my time? It’s worth a rental and it’s one of the better vampire comedies

Who This Film is Perfect For: Nerds, LARPers, Cosplayers, Goths, Twihards, and people that like Christoper Guest style mockumentaries. A must see for vampire enthusiasts.

Who Will Not Like This Film: Person with an aversion to gory comedy, or who have gotten tired of smug quirkiness, or who don’t like New Zealanders.

TL, DR: Spinal Tap with vampires as delivered by Kiwis.

The Dark Lords of Wellington: What We Do in the Shadows is a found footage mockumentary following a group of vampire room-mates who share a mansion in Wellington, New Zealand. They all roughly conform to different archetypes: there’s Viago (Taika Waititi), a foppish Lestat type; there is Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), a classical East European warlord; there’s Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) a lout who’s perhaps more closely representative of the pre-Stoker conception of vampires.

When their Nosferatu room-mate (Ben Fransham) goes up in flames, the trio has to accept a new flat-mate, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a neck-tattooed lout who mostly knows vampires from Twilight. Nick is clueless and enthusiastic about his undeath, proudly going around telling everybody he knows that he’s a vampire. Meanwhile, the annual Unholy Masquerade (jointly hosted by the League of Vampires and the Kiwanis Zombie Club) is coming up.

How does this film compare to others like it? This film ranks highly but it’s not at the pinnacle (that would be The Lost Boys). It’s not as ludicrous as From Dusk Till Dawn, and there’s no one comic actor who compares to Nick Cage’s genius lunacy in The Vampire’s Kiss. But it has more and better jokes than Vamps, The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

While there are a few great comic bits in this (Karen O’Leary as a clueless police constable, Cohen Holloway as a werewolf), my favorite running gag is Madelein Sami as Morana, Deacon’s Igor-like familiar. She’s a middle-aged soccer mom acting as a maid/corpse disposer for the vampires, in the hopes of being awarded with vampiric immortality. She absolutely nails the combination of frazzled desperation and smarmy suburban politesse that makes the joke work.

What We Do in the Shadows does innovate by being the first to really satirize the Urban Fantasy genre of True Blood, Grimm, Buffy in being not just a vampire comedy, but one that has jokes about the misunderstandings between vampires and werewolves and zombies and other supernatural creatures. The brilliance of this film lays within it’s anti-romanticism. All of the characters in this movie are essentially what LARPers would be like if they were granted their fantasy to be the undead.

What works in this film? The best comedy throughout this film is from the intrusion of the banal into this world of shadowy immortals. Arguments about who should do the chores, or the minor bickering between the various supernatural entities (including a pack of Ned Flander-ish male lycanthropes (who are werewolves, not swear-wolves).

What fails? There is no real sense of comic escalation in the film. There’s great timing in the delivery of the lines, but there’s no real inter-connection between the jokes. A lot of the comedic ideas are underdeveloped. The overall pacing and number of vignettes gives me the impression that What We Do in the Shadows was originally a pilot for a comedy series that was then converted and expanded into a film in order to recoup losses.

Lessons on How Not to Die: Most of all, be like Stu, the mortal too nice to be devoured. Help introduce everybody to new technology like iPads and Ebay. Don’t accept dinner invitations from people you picked on in school. Pay attention to when people are setting up newspapers under your seat- that’s not a good thing.