DIRECTOR Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi WRITER Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi STARS Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi; Jonathan Brugh DVD & BLU-RAY 13 April
A documentary crew follows the bemusing exploits of a group of house-sharing vampires in this charming, oddly heart-warming comedy-horror from New Zealanders Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. Cut together from 125 hours of improvised footage, it’s testament to all involved that What We Do in the Shadows feels so fresh, energetic and cuspid-sharp. The plot, free and loose as it is, is driven by the eccentric characters and the various tensions that arise from their sharing a house together, while each carefully fleshed out character lovingly riffs on various pre-established vampire archetypes. There’s Viago, a 379-year-old lovelorn dandy (a neat reversal of the typically ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Byronesque vampire); Deacon, a 183-year-old former Nazi vampire (a seemingly Anne Rice inspired faded/jaded rock star type); Vlad the Impaler styled Vladislav ‘the Poker’, an 862-year-old Romanian prince who’s ‘a bit of a pervert’; and Petyr, an 8,000-year-old feral Nosferatu-alike who keeps himself to himself in the basement.
The attempts of this group of supernatural misfits trying and failing to fit in with society echo the likes of Being Human, and the absurdity is wonderfully accentuated by the sheer mundanity of the situations they find themselves in: from arguing over the cleaning rota and attempting to gain entry to Wellington’s most hip and happening nightspots, to deciding how to best remove blood stains from antique furniture, the banality renders their outlandish personalities and attempts to integrate infectiously humorous. The shadow of Withnail and I also stretches throughout, from the grotty shared residence, antiquated decadence and outbursts of comical debauchery, to the central idea of a group of individuals too bored, stubborn and ultimately incapable of functioning in the 21st century. Stuck in arrested development, their behaviour and attitudes resemble those of overgrown children, and despite their blood-fuelled bravado, there’s an endearing naivety to each of them. Indeed, even the peripheral characters, such as the werewolves (not swearwolves!) and the witches, warlocks and zombies at the Unholy Masquerade are all depicted as charmingly inept, just trying to get by and get on with life.
With the plot structured around various vignettes, the ‘documentary’ format works well and allows the witty, observational humour room to breathe. Intentionally intrusive, it incorporates to-camera pieces, candid introspection and myriad awkward glances during botched attempts to dine on virgins — and it really doesn’t skimp on the red stuff when it’s called for. Pacing is brisk and the onscreen chemistry positively crackles. The filmmakers know their subject well and treat it with respect, as well as gently poking fun at its more absurd aspects. References to vampire cinema and literature abound; from Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to The Lost Boys, Anne Rice and Twilight, ardent vampire admirers will find much to salivate over.