What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Poster for What We Do in the Shadows

This is a mockumentary about vampires that was made in New Zealand. The basic set-up is four vampires sharing a flat in Wellington. An unnamed crew is filming a documentary about them in the lead-up to the annual monster’s ball for the local vampires, zombies, and witches — but not werewolves, who are looked down on by the others. Through the eyes of the documentary cameras we’re shown the squabbles of the flatmates over chores, their mischievous efforts to find prey, their swearing matches with werewolves (‘not swearwolves!’), their favorite nightlife haunts in Wellington, their mentoring of younger vampires, and the history of their own conversion to vampirism and their lives in the centuries since. (The youngest of them is almost 200.)

It’s very simple, but it’s also very clever and very funny. There is an actual horror element to it, with people getting killed in gruesome ways, but the horror is always played for laughs. It’s slapstick horror. The day-to-day petty grind of life as a vampire turns out to be a rich, um, vein of comedy. It’s also very clever in the way it riffs on the standard vampire lore and classics of vampire cinema, such as the 8,000 year old roommate, Peter, who is modeled on Count Orlok from Murnau’s Nosferatu and who comes to a similar end.

In some ways it feels like an extended television sitcom, and my friend Luke tells me these guys made a television series called Flight of the Conchords, about a New Zealand band that relocates to New York City. It’s very episodic and gag-based, but it does have a few threads that run through it, two of which result in a delightful happy ending. It’s a feel good vampire movie, and who knew that was even possible? Well, I suppose The Only Lovers Left Alive was a feel good movie in its own way, but it was a pretty smug one. What We Do in the Shadows is entirely more goofy, and you’ll never think of sandwiches the same way again.


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