“Peppered with inventive wry gags and ingenious set pieces, Shadows uses the mockumentary style to great effect as it blends the dramatic nature of the vampire myth with the mundane reality of modern life.”
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
by Matt Allen
Cast: Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Rhys Darby
Director(s): Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Screenwriter(s): Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Running Time: 85 mins
There are few words in the English language that, when placed side by side, promise as much as the phrase ‘vampire mockumentary’. Honestly, how has this not been done already? Well now it has and it’s brought to us by none other than (one half of) the hilarious musical duo Flight of the Conchords, so feel free to set your expectations sky high.
A documentary team follow a group of vampires sharing a flat in New Zealand as they prepare for the social event of the year, the Unholy Masquerade Ball.
It should come as little surprise considering the involvement of Clement that What We Do in the Shadows comes in the form of an improvised comedy. As with any ad-libbed piece, the strength of the film relies entirely on the actors’ ability to provide an organic performance based on their characters established personality, while simultaneously injecting comedy into their actions. Shadows excels at this thanks to its magnetic cast and their Kiwi-brand deadpan delivery.
Flat sharing (or ‘flatting’ in the NZ vernacular) is fraught with drama at the best of times without factoring in the fiendish tenants who, in this case, have been set in their ways for centuries. Inspiration for the blood suckers has been drawn from various incarnations of the vampire across cinema (mercifully stopping short before the better left undead iterations of the modern day, you twinkly bastards know who you are).
Waititi plays Viago, the foppish dandy of the group and our personal guide to the everyday lives of the vamps. Essentially, he’s the archetypal anally retentive housemate perpetually trying to maintain civility in the flat while also ensuring the chore-wheel is properly adhered to. He’s the kind of unholy monster that puts down newspaper before tearing your throat out.
Clement (arguably the funnier half of Flight of the Conchords) is Vladislav, a more familiar blood sucker modelled closely on the hypnotic, overtly sexual creature-of-the-night seen throughout the 70s and 80s.
They are joined by the reckless bad-boy Deacon (Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham), the ancient nosferatu of few words that lives in the basement. Petyr in fact turned Deacon back in the day and they’ve “been close ever since”.
However, the best scenes are undeniably those in which the band of vamps lock fangs with a pack of temper-conscious werewolves (not swear-wolves) lead by Conchords alum Rhys Darby. In a hilarious face off, the two gothic legends exchange typically weak smack talk as the wolf pack try their level best not to lose their shit and transform. The werewolves have already received such a good reaction from fans that a sequel – possibly entitled What We Do in the Moonlight – is already being seriously considered.
Peppered with inventive wry gags and ingenious set pieces, Shadows uses the mockumentary style to great effect as it blends the dramatic nature of the vampire myth with the mundane reality of modern life. While it could be accused of loosely stringing together a parade of sketches with little in the way of discernible plot, the editing shows considerable discipline in shearing the purported hours of footage down to less than an hour and a half (bigger budget films such as Anchorman 2 could learn something here) which keeps the film from sagging and ensures a remarkable consistency throughout.
Improvisational comedy at its very best that comes very close to reaching the impossibly high benchmark left by the Spinal Tap boys back in the day.