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Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement have teamed up once again to bring the world an unquestionably unique, and entirely spellbinding comedy. What We Do in the Shadows is a vivid mockery of the current vampire obsession in film, television, and literature. Taking vampirism to its real-world conclusion, Clement and Waititi exploit the mythology and popular culture ideology surrounding the creatures, bringing their riotously funny mockumentary to life.
Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Vladislav (Clement) have been living together for decades. As vampires, the trio has some very unusual habits, but have a surprisingly normal existence. Waking up at dusk, the trio has flat meetings, nights out, and regular routines. Deacon is the youngest (at 183) followed by Viago (317) and Vladislav (862) – all three have had plenty of time to adapt to life as a predator of the night. Rooming in the basement is the nightmarish Petyr, an 8,000-year old vampire reminiscent of Max Schreck’s Count Orlok. As vampires, the four creatures must sustain their non-life with human blood, the gathering of which provides much of the humor in the film. To accomplish daily tasks, Deacon has retained the services of a human “familiar,” Jackie (Jackie van Beek), to whom he has promised eternal life as a vampire. When a nightly meal, rounded up by Jackie, puts up a bit more of struggle than the trio is used to, Petyr has no problem swooping in to finish off a fleeing straggler. Petyr creates Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a constant thorn in the other vampires’ sides, yet one they feel responsible for. As the documentary crew follows along, the four vampires prowl the streets of Wellington, New Zealand looking for prey, and, more generally, a good time.
A majority of the comedy in What We Do in the Shadows is derived from the practical implementation of classic vampire mythology. With so many physical limitations, the men’s lives are complex and bizarre. Not having a reflection complicates putting on a proper outfit, and not being able to enter a structure without an invitation, can ruin a night of going clubbing. Finding “willing” human victims is a constant source of humor, as are the many ways each individual vampire goes about feeding. Hardly the only vampires (or even mythical creatures) in town, Deacon, Vladislav, and Viago are in constant contact with bizarre segments of the New Zealand population, completely unknown to most humans. Other vampires inject their own tidbits of humor, particularly two very young ladies out for a prowl on the town. Clement and Waititi have included parts for regular contributor, Rhys Darby, in a very amusing turn as a werewolf. Pockets of humor can be found throughout the film, and in nearly every form. From slapstick pratfalls, and morbidly gory deaths, to subtle comments on how being born in the 1100’s might affect your worldview, What We Do in the Shadows is packed with laughs.
While they infuse bits of their own humorous tendencies into their characters, Clement, Waititi and Brugh are fantastic as the lead vamps. Having to embody characters from centuries ago, each do a wonderful job staying in character, and delivering macabre, yet sarcastic performances. Giving humanity (with all of its emotional ups and downs) to vampires, creates a hilarious aura around the characters, who are concerned with looking foolish, getting the dishes done, and acting like a group of old men. Wildly un-glamorous, the trio proves that the popular conception of vampirism is not all that its cracked up to be, and that life when you’re dead can be rather dull. The “cool” vampiric exterior removed, the men exemplify how having to kill someone every night, and watching all your friends die will turn anyone into a truly bizarre creature.
One of the best comedies in recent years, What We Do in the Shadows uses the reality of documentary form to dismantle our preposterous cultural infatuation with vampires. Simultaneously taking a poke at zombies and werewolves, Waititi and Clement’s film will appeal to viewers of any age (deferring to parental discretion where applicable), and certainly garnered plenty of applause from my nearly packed theater.