“What We Do in the Shadows” (New Zealand, 2015). Directed and written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer.
New Zealand might be the last place on Earth where you’d think it’s the case to keep an eye out for vampires. Well, you’d be wrong. Wellington is the place that Viago, Vladislav and Deacon call home. And they are not the only ones – from werewolves to zombies, the city’s nightlife hustles and bustles with a well-represented community of the undead.
For all those out there thinking being virtually immortal is great, What We Do in the Shadows is here to prove you wrong. You still need to struggle to make and keep friends – especially those of the humankind, as you’re always tempted to stick your fangs in their neck. As a vampire you might also face an important ethical dilemma when it comes to keeping a faithful human servant around. They are an absolute necessity, but they might be nagging you incessantly about helping them become a vampire too.
What the three vampire flatmates and buddies make us understand though is the fact that being dead still doesn’t protect you from strong emotions such as fear or falling in love, nor does your bestiality mean you’ll lose your playful spirit or you can’t care for proper hygiene or have a few pedantic quirks. What’s more, being undead can be a very funny business.
With a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary approach, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement have created a film that will shift everything you thought you knew about vampires. Flight of the Conchords fans will be familiar with the cast and the style of humour. This is not to say that the directors don’t take their characters seriously – quite the contrary. They are intimately and gingerly sketched from attitude to mimicry and speech. The deceivingly simple special effects (think of flying or spontaneous metamorphoses into bats) help to establish the convention and atmosphere, but they are also means to create very efficient gags – vampires have no reflection, yet a mirror is the perfect frame for an impromptu reenactment of a Pac-Man game, with a lemon and a napkin as props.
What We Do in the Shadows cleverly plays with our fear as well as the general preconceptions and mythologies connected to the undead. Without cliche reference to Transylvania – although it is implied that Vladislav is none other than Vlad the Impaler – the introduction of the protagonists is interlaced with stills of manuscripts, encyclopedias, paintings and murals that take the viewer through a series of telling images in all their gothic glory.
If you play along with What We Do in the Shadows (and you should) you’ll get the right amount of blood, fear of the sun and coffins to keep your “vampire lover” side happy. But do expect good doses of humor as you discover, for example, that vampires long for sunlight – one of the biggest advantages they find in modern technology is the ability to safely experience seeing the sunrise by means of a YouTube video. This is a definite must for all fans of the vampire genre, but won’t fail to prove enjoyable for anybody in the search for a piece of thoughtful and kooky entertainment.