You may think that vampires are dead and buried, but What We Do in the Shadows has pumped life into this stiff and tired subgenre by adding a truly comedic twist to the old tale of those who walk in darkness.
Vladislav, Deacon, Viago and Petyr are four undead flatmates who decide to give us daywalkers a peek into their nightly lives, by allowing a documentary crew to follow and film their expeditions. Sure, there’s the occasional bloodbath, and the youngest person in the house is over 100 years of age, but mostly, being a vampire seems a lot like being a human, which means taking turns doing chores, settling disputes between roommates, and figuring out what to wear to the club on a Friday night. However, just when the group thinks that their biggest concern is the fact that Deacon hasn’t done the dishes in over five years, a new crisis emerges. Petyr turns one of their recent victims, Nick, into a vampire, and just like any baby vamp, he can’t help but cause trouble. Nick tells anyone who’ll listen that he’s a vampire, and often displays his new talents in public, unintentionally luring traitors to their home and putting his new friends in danger. When you’re allergic to silver, flammable in sunlight, and incapable of ingesting solid foods, immortality doesn’t seem so impenetrable after all.
Despite his rebellious nature and impulsive carelessness, Nick has proven himself to be as much of a blessing as he is a curse. Before he entered the house, these creatures of the night had stopped appreciating the fact that they lived on long after their hearts stopped beating. They’ve become so used to the regiment, they’ve stopped valuing their immortality, fixating on daily chores instead of the possibilities. Nick reminds them that being a vampire is actually pretty great, By making them fear for their lives for the first time in many moons, he has forced them to value their time on earth again.
One of the most brilliant tricks of What We Do in the Shadows is the lack of a single protagonist. Shot much in a similar style to Christopher Guests mockumentaries, the point-of-view jumps from subject to subject, spending nearly the same amount of time on one vampire as the next. It soon becomes clear that each has his own set of problems, mirroring many of the woes that lonely vamps from famous works of fiction have suffered. Nick loves the fact that he can fly, but when it sets in that he’ll never again see the sun rise, suddenly cheap tricks don’t hold a candle to the warmth he once held in his bones. Viago always manages to maintain a positive attitude, but deep inside his rotting heart, even he suffers from a silent longing to be with his lost loved one again. Vladislav once held behind his eyes the power to bring mere men to their knees, hypnotizing crowds with the flicker of an eyelash and a casual command. Nowadays, he’s lucky if he can grab someone’s attention, let alone engulf them in his magic. It’s a tough time for vampires in the modern world, when technology around them seems to possess just as much wonder as they do.
What We Do in the Shadows is so ridiculously funny that you certainly dont need to be a horror fan to enjoy its wit. Still, the brisk eighty-eight minute runtime is filled with plenty of Easter eggs for horror fans and homages to other vamp flicks, thankfully without overloading the film to the point of exhaustion. Sprinkled in carefully are nods to classics like Nosferatu, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Lost Boys, and even a few jabs at Twilight. As it turns out, a mockumentary-style movie is exactly what vampires have been missing, often allowing the film to be clever in its callbacks. Clement and Waititi reward audiences with returns to topics discussed in the opening moments. Sometimes you have to wait for the pay off, but the result is uproarious.
What We Do in the Shadows is a necessary addition to the bloodsucker classics, poking fun at some popular titles, while also acting as a love letter to the mythology of vampyrs, and their many interpretations over the years. Not only is it extremely amusing, but it’s also oddly endearing. Writer/directors Jemaine Clement and Takai Waititi have accomplished a difficult feat by creating a hysterical parody with some truly sweet and charming vampires. Watching your friends grow old and die, missing your chance to capitalize on a romance and watching from a distance as your one true love marries another man — these are real issues that someone who lives for all of eternity would face, and their reactions to these circumstances still manage to be heartbreaking, even in the midst of all of the humor. This is one horror comedy that will live on for years, hopefully as long as its pale protagonists, if not forever.