Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, two of the minds behind the hysterical and quirky HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords have sunk their teeth into the vampire genre with a mockumentary called What We Do In The Shadows. And to the surprise of only idiots and the insane, it’s absolutely hilarious.
Imagine if you will what it would be like if This American Life made a documentary about centuries-old vampires who share a small house in New Zealand. That in a nutshell is What We Do In The Shadows, which presents us with five very distinct brands of vampire, ranging from a Nosferatu-style blood sucker (Ben Fransham), to a dandy too delicate for Anne Rice’s novels (Waititi), a Vlad the Impaler parody (Clement), a wild peasant rogue (Jonathan Brugh), and a recently bit inductee (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) who eagerly compares himself to Twilight.
The script by co-directors and co-stars Waititi and Clement shows a vast knowledge of the vampire genre’s tropes and mythos, spinning them into seriously silly sight gags like messy meals, shape-shifting gone awry, and killer one-liners. For instance, Vlad’s matter-of-fact explanation of why vampires prefer virgin blood, “If you were going to eat a sandwich, you’d just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.”
Between movies like Only Lovers Left Alive,A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and this, it’s been a pretty sensational time for vampire movies with each of these taking the genre in new and unexpected directions. In the case of What We Do In The Shadows, Waititi and Clement shrewdly blend the genre in with mockumentary, using clever “archival” images, embarrassing footage that would surely have these vamps rolling over in their coffins, and talking heads/voiceover that adds an extra layer of depth and deranged humor.
Adding to the “reality” of their world, Clement and Waititi offer a lush set design that feels both gaudy in the manner we so often associate with vampires, and decayed in a way that undercuts their allure. The differences between these immortal roommates is efficiently summed up in a ridiculous fashion montage where they prepare for a night on the town, posing for each other’s pencil sketches—because of course mirrors are useless to them! This silly scene plays to the film’s core theme, one that makes these untouchable immortals deeply human: Their undying desire to be cool. Vampires, so often presented as the epitome of sex and style, are here shown as wannabes and insecure pretenders. Which for all its bonkers humor gives the film a warm insight and relatable core that’ll have you rooting for these monsters even as they casually manipulate their human familiars, war with preppy werewolves, and kill strangers.
So, I’ve outlined what makes What We Do In The Shadows a high-quality film: It’s smart, respectful yet playful with its genre blending, and ultimately poignant. But above all else, it’s really fucking funny. You’ll notice the advertising culled from film festival and foreign release reviews is a wall of the word “hilarious,” and deservedly so. But what’s best about What We Do In The Shadows is that it’s one of those movies that gets funnier every time you watch it. It’s so dense with jokes you’re guaranteed to miss some through the cacophony of your own laughter. And with an ensemble cast working this flawlessly together, only re-watching allows you take in side-splitting reactions you may have missed your first go ‘round. Basically, you shouldn’t just see this movie. You should see this movie repeatedly.
Kristy Puchko can find a way to quote Flight of the Conchords in any social situation.