Recently I have been letting a few of my movie choices be dictated by my podcast partner, Isaac Needleman. If you have not listened to it yet, it is called Down and Out Reviews, and you can find it on Spotify. You can choose for yourself which one is “down” and which one is “out.” In the course of our fun and meandering conversations, a movie will come up that I have not seen and this revelation usually shocks Isaac’s cinematic sensibilities. This is typically followed by a demand to watch it. So, I do. This was how I came to see Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010), and now it has led me to What We Do in the Shadows (2014). Like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, What We Do in the Shadows is another one of those films that was on Netflix for a while but I never got around to watching. I am mostly glad that I finally did sit through it.
If you are familiar with the mockumentary style of films like Best in Show (2000), then you will understand what is going on with What We Do in the Shadows. It also makes for a difficult film to review because the plot is usually thin. Thankfully, that is not necessarily the case with this one. Also, if you know your common vampire characters and lore, it will make it funnier. There are four stereotypical bloodsuckers living together in the New Zealand capital of Wellington. The one who introduces everyone is Viago (Taika Waititi), a Lestat fill-in from the Anne Rice novels. The camera crew is on his coffin as he emerges at the sound of an alarm clock, and it follows him as he goes about awakening his flatmates (this is New Zealand, after all). There is Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) who is clearly supposed to be Vlad the Impaler, particularly as thr character relates to the 1992 version of Brahm Stoker’s Dracula. The youngest of the creatures of the night sharing the flat is Deacon (Jonny Brugh), though I am not sure what character he is supposed to be mocking. At any rate, rounding out their group is the oldest, and the one who turned Deacon into a vampire, Petyr (Ben Fransham). His character is done up to look like the monster from Nosferatu (1922), one of the earliest cinematic examples of a vampire. They all have proscribed ways of behaving. Viago, because he was a good-looking dandy in his former life, spends most of the time fussing over the tidiness of their shared living space. Vladislav is supposedly the most powerful of them, though most of his abilities are basically a joke. As the youngest of them, Deacon is the more “childish,” though his rebellion is mostly confined to not wanting to do their gore splattered dishes. And then there is Petyr. Because his character came from the silent era of films, he does not talk, but rather stands around looking creepy and menacing. Together, they attempt to lead as normal of lives as possible, though with the caveat that they must drink human blood to survive. Bummer. Deacon also has what is called a “familiar,” which basically means slave, named Jackie (Jackie van Beek). While this kind of arrangement might seem horrible, she puts up with doing all manner of inane chores (mostly cleaning up murder scenes) because Deacon has promised to turn her into a vampire. Who would not want to be immortal? One evening, she brings two unwitting victims to the flat for the brood to consume. When one of them, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), escapes, Petyr catches him and turns him into a vampire, much to Jackie’s envy. Now that Nick is a creature of the night, he begins to take advantage of the benefits of his newfound condition, such as the ability to fly. He also introduces the vampires to his friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), an unassuming computer programmer to which the undead take an inexplicable liking. So much do they like Stu, that they begin to prefer him over their own kind, Nick, who is breaking many of the rules of being a vampire. One of them is blatantly telling people who he is, which brings a vampire hunter to their house who kills Petyr. Nick is banished from their group, but Stu is allowed to stick around. A bigger problem arises, though, when they attempt to bring Stu to the undead ball, where witches, vampires, and zombies gather once a year. Their policy is to eat any human that comes within reach. When Viago and his friends defend Stu, they are forced to flee. However, in their flight they run into the vampire’s mortal enemies, a pack of werewolves. Unfortunately for Stu, he gets caught by the howlers and is made into one of them. In the end, this works out for everyone since the love of Stu leads to a reconciliation between vampires and werewolves. This is basically where the film ends.
I guess I left out the reason Viago states in What We Do in the Shadows as for how he ended up in New Zealand. Nearly a century previously, he had fallen in love with a human. She traveled to the land of the Kiwi ahead of him, but his coffin had been shipped separately and ended up bouncing around the globe for eighteen months before arriving at its destination. By the time he got there, it was too late. She had already married. Viago never forgot about her, though, and in modern times spend hours standing outside of Katherine’s (Ethel Robinson) window despite her advanced age. And in the end, he decides to turn her into a vampire and spend the rest of his days with her. I add this because my description of the plot made the movie seem a lot more serious than what it is in reality. Describing comedy can be tricky, even the most hilarious ones. Writing about jokes will never be as funny as actually seeing them.
Because I do not believe I have reviewed a vampire movie for The Legionnaire as of yet, I guess this is as good a time as any to mention my own distaste for this subgenre. One of the more minor points that irks me is how the rules change from film-to-film, and this is something at which What We Do in the Shadows pokes fun. That is gratifying, at least. One of changeable guidelines is the effectiveness of Christian symbols in warding off vampires. At the outset, there is a line that mentions how the camera crew were each given a Crucifix for their protection. In lore, vampires have been symbols of evil, so naturally that which represents ultimate good would be seen as a bulwark against them. Of course, because this is meant to be a comedy, Faith is not taken seriously. As such, I am not keen when Viago says that they do not like nuns, even though he dressed up as one for their annual ball. I love nuns! Then again, what else would a practicing Catholic like me say?
What We Do in the Shadows is mildly entertaining. I never had any full-throated laughs, but rather a series of light chuckles throughout. I appreciate the way it makes fun of a tired set of movies. Vampires are far too celebrated in American culture. Be warned, though, the movie is rated R. If you can get around that rating, then you have a decent film.