Niche is one way to describe a dark comedy about a group of vampires muddling through day-to-day life in Wellington suburbia. However, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 horror mockumentary secured its place as a familiar favourite, if one with a bit of a cult status, through its bizarre and banal satire. Both gag-fuelled and gory, it’s a film that will keep you smiling throughout its entire 97 minute run – frankly a better way of using your quarantine time than messing around with a sour-dough starter.
Filmed by a small group of camera men provided with crucifixes and full immunity from their subjects (of course), the mockumentary depicts the nightly activities and bickering of four centuries-old vampires. Dandyish Viago (Waititi) laments the state of the sink whilst Deacon, the 183 year old “rock star” of the group, maintains “vampires don’t do dishes”. Meanwhile Vladislav (Clement) explains his tardy appearance at flat meetings citing mass demonic orgies as an excuse and 8000 year old Peter is left in the basement with his chicken carcass.
The film is ostensibly about a group of “man-children” and their immature gags and petty feuds. There is a well meaning idiocy to the hypnotic tricks they play on their victims that can also be found in their rigorous traditions. The characters relentless pandering to their documenters is reminiscent of a host of mockumentary sitcoms. Waititi and Clement have painstakingly fleshed out their characters, and the friendship and tensions that exist in the household feel comfortably and humorously familiar.
Yet trouble arises when one of the coven turns Nick, an intended food source, into a vampire, and suddenly the house dynamics must deal with an excitable and egotistical addition. As the youngest member of the house, Nick brings an even greater level of ridiculousness to the group, but also a self awareness regarding the contemporary cultural associations of vampires; the others must confront him over his keenness to tell every club-er in Wellington “I am Twilight”.
When Nick invites his friend Stu (a human) into the house, the group begins to form a bizarrely touching attachment to him, despite their admitted desire to eat him. He becomes an additional house member and the resident technology guru, teaching the archaic vampires some new skills such as Skype, web surfing and DJing. Despite the lack of action, the film maintains a sharp and fast paced humour, which makes up for the occasional feeling that the plot is somewhat sparse.
It truly is the script and performances that stand out in this film, and for the most part, these features are left to speak for themselves. In line with the mockumentary style, the cinematography and the role of the camera are fairly simple. On the rare occasions when special effects are used, such as in examples of the film’s gore based humour, they end up leaving the intended comedy slightly flat. You wouldn’t define What We Do In The Shadows as “uproarious comedy” by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is a delightful blend of utter ridiculousness, sharp puns and continuous gags, and it’s cheerful enough to make for perfect quarantine viewing. There is definitely solace to be found in watching a group of people muddle through their own endless boredom with a level of remarkable idiocy and genuine enjoyment of each other’s company.