REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For Digital First Media
Perhaps, you despise the entire vampire genre. You’d rather be water-boarded than see a film out of the “Twilight” franchise. Do yourself a favor — don’t let that deter you from seeing, “What We Do in the Shadows,” a hilarious mockumentary about vampires.
The film is premised on the notion that a film crew is making a documentary about four vampires. They’re not living in some Transylvanian castle. Instead, the quartet is domiciled in a disheveled flat, situated in a suburb of Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand.
The foursome isn’t exactly a bunch of spring chickens. Initially, we meet Viago (co-screenwriter/co-director, Taika Waititi), aged 317. A convivial host, he provides us with some perspective on things. Viago is an 18th century dandy, with a penchant for frilly, silk shirts. Vladislav (fellow co-screenwriter/co-director, Jermaine Clement), aged 862, is a Medieval character loosely based on Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) a mere aged 183, was previously recruited by the Nazis during World War II as part of their secret vampire corps. Pettier (Ben Fransham) aged 8,000, is a hideously desiccated creature, who hails from ancient times. While the others have middle European accents, Petyr merely snarls unintelligibly.
At a house meeting, the flatmates squabble over domestic chores. Like many group houses, they use a chore wheel to govern assigned tasks. Alas, Deacon refuses to do dishes and they have piled up in the kitchen sink for years. This provides a quick alert to the fact that the characters aren’t obsessed exclusively with quintessential vampire matters.
Sunlight is the bane of their existence. It will cause them to shrivel up and die. So, they must avoid it at all costs and maintain a purely nocturnal modus vivendi. To sustain their immortality, vampires need fresh human blood. To augment their nightly forays, Deacon has recruited a human, Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), as a servant. Periodically, she entices guests back to the flat. In exchange, Deacon is supposed to grant her eternal life. Periodically, Jackie cavils about Deacon’s failure to consummate his promise.
Virgin blood is particularly coveted. As Deacon suggests, “I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.” Vladislav, counters that if you were going to eat a sandwich, wouldn’t you prefer that no one had previously had sex with it? It is an example of the perfect deadpan timing that recurs frequently throughout the film.
To mollify the vampire’s preference for virgin blood, Jackie brings her erstwhile boyfriend, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) to the vampires’ lair. She assumes that he is a virgin. However, when questioned by the vampires, he disclaims his virginal status. Befuddled, Jackie insists, “You were a virgin when we were seeing each other.” Nick retorts, “Yeah, I was twelve.” Before Nick can leave, he is bitten by the ravenous Petyr.
Nick becomes a member of the vampire fellowship. With the advent of dark, he Viago, Vladislav and Deacon prowl the town, looking for new victims. Night clubs for Goth kids and other hipster types are fertile grounds for ferreting out sources of new blood.
As co-screenwriters/co-directors, Clement and Waititi, provide plenty of funny lines and maintain the brisk pacing of the film. They elicit game performances from their castmates, who maintain the film’s offbeat jocularity. This film is a likely follow-up for Clement, who is half of the eccentric comedy duo, “Flight of the Conchords.” It is a definite step up for Waititi, the auteur behind the inconsequential, “Eagle vs. Shark,” a vehicle that starred Clement.
Despite a severely constrained budget, the film has an impressive production scheme. Courtesy of art director, Ra Vincent, the domestic scenes of a blood-soaked kitchen and bathroom help contribute to the mood of the film. Stunt coordinator, Rodney Cook, and visual effects supervisors, Stan Alley and Darwin Go, do a nice job on practical effects. These are well-complemented by G.G.I. from special effects supervisors, Steve Ingram and Doug Falconer. Costume design by Amanda Neale helps define the characters.
Don’t leave the film at the onset of the credits. There is an amusing, hypnotic epilogue. It epitomizes why “What We Do in the Shadows” is such an endearing chucklefest.
***1/2 No MPAA rating 87 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.