Undead comedy should have died sooner: What We Do in the Shadows

B- Mockumentary

  • Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

This vampire mockumentary from New Zealand feels a bit like an article in The Onion or The Borowitz Report. The headline and the first couple of paragraphs are very funny. But as you go deeper into it, you experience longer waits between laughs.

The basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentary camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in Wellington (they call it a flat, but it looked like a house to me). They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead but still active existences.

Initially, the movie finds plenty of laughs about the situation. A vampire’s digital alarm clock goes off at 6:00pm. He opens his coffin, and rises out of it like a flat board being tilted up. But as he does it, he smiles into the camera, as if to say “Look what I can do!”

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A modern vampire’s life has other joys…and problems. They wear wild and crazy clothes, some of which they take from their victims. They have human slaves. On the other hand, drinking the blood of a living person can make a real mess. Their arguments can go on for eternity–literally. And eating just one French fry produces the grossest projectile vomiting imaginable.

The vampires’ different personalities clearly produce conflict. Our primary connection to their world, Viago (Taika Waititi), is fussy, tries to be tidy (he asks his mates to please put newspaper on the floor before biting someone), and wants everyone to be comfortable. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the youngest at 183, is a bit of an adolescent rebel. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) has a very dark but sexual personality. 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) looks like Nosferatu. He seldom moves and never speaks.

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But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. To keep things going, the filmmakers bring in some not-particularly interesting conflict. Brand-new vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) thinks his new situation so cool that he has to tell everyone. Obviously, you don’t want your neighbors, or the police, to know that you’re killing people for your own nourishment. (The cops in this film are geniuses at not noticing what’s really going on.) But this begs the question: If they don’t want mortals to know that they’re vampires, why did they agree to make a documentary?

At times the movie can be quite impressive. Even the generally dull second half has a smattering for very funny jokes. And someone really took the time to create the excellent, low-budget special effects, most of which I’m pretty sure were done in the camera.

The film was made by the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, which I’ve heard good things about but have never seen. Shadows is a fun idea for a movie. But after that idea has been played out, the fun comes only occasionally.

At least it’s better than the last vampire comedy I reviewed.