A documentary crew are sent to Wellington, New Zealand, and granted access to a share house of vampires: Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham).
Co-writers and directors Waititi and Clement are genius comedic strategists with their commitment to set ups gags that pay off big time as they are deployed. From the moment Viago’s arm creeps out of a coffin to hit a buzzing alarm clock it’s clear that the comedic filter cast over this environment is working to craft jokes at every opportunity. The pacing and timing is perfectly regimented for maximum effect and there is rarely a moment when your face isn’t locked into a smile. Waititi and Clement mine centuries of vampire lore and pop culture incarnations of blood suckers to wittily deconstruct every aspect of the supernatural world.
With the vampires’ age range between one and 8000 years-old it gives Waititi and Clement an opportunity to present these characters as out-of-time goofballs that all have a rich shared history. Viago is a dandy whose kindness outweighs his darker side that is cut from the Anne Rice mould of vampire. Vladislav is a riff on medieval nasties like Vlad the Impaler but he is known as ‘Vlad the Poker’ (a joke with multiple comedic pressure points). Deacon is the David Brent (The Office) of the group with his cockiness, assumed vampiric sexiness and an exotic dance routine that’s unforgettable. Petyr is a play on the classic Nosferatu vampire with long fingers and giant fangs, but his name elicits giggles as Viago tries to reason with him about chores around the house. The addition of a newly turned vampire to the group, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), and his human friend, Stu (Stu Rutherford), opens up the primary conflict of the film between the old world of the vampires and Nick’s modern sensibilities. It also presents Waititi and Clement with an opportunity for Nick to show the older vampires about the perks of the Internet that becomes another bountiful space for a good cackle, especially when they hit YouTube and search: Sunrise.
Further venturing into other domains of vampire life is the master and human servant relationships that’s showcased between Deacon and his charge Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) that’s ripe with gags about gender politics and how she sources people for the vamps to feed on. The humour begins to expand into a wider world of beasts and ghouls each with their own microcosm of tropes and clichés to make fun of, but I won’t spoil the surprises.
The ensemble are a hilarious brood that give What We Do in the Shadows play perfectly into the understated documentary style that feels authentic while still dabbling in the ridiculous. There’s a generosity with each performance that allows all the actors to have their moment no matter how big or small the role.
What We Do in the Shadows does for vampires what This is Spinal Tap did for rock bands.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW