Drink it Up, by Matt Warren
Look, being a vampire undoubtedly sucks. Stop audibly laughing at my amazing pun. It’s distracting your coworkers, and besides: this is serious business. This may be a bit existential, but I can think of no fate worse than eternal life. Especially one without the ability to move about in the sunlight coupled with the overwhelming need to feed off human blood. Add to that the fact that I don’t even like Bauhaus all that much and you’ve got a hard pass. This isn’t exactly a hot take. Movies diverse as Nosferatu and Twilight have provided innumerable portraits of sullen bloodsuckers over the years—a menagerie of pale, baleful sadsacks who rue their curse and dream, wistfully, of being delivered into the blissful arms of oblivion. But let’s hit pause for a second here and be real: being a vampire is probably pretty fucking fun too, right? At least that’s the thesis of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s awesome and hilarious new mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows.
Shadows is the latest joint effort from Kiwi kollaborators Clement (HBO’s Flight of the Conchords) and Waititi (Boy), who previously worked together on 2007’s tweemongering indie romance Eagle vs. Shark. Synthesizing elements of peak-era Christopher Guest, The Addams Family, and MTV’s The Real World, Shadows is presented as a low-key documentary about the day-to-day lives of a handful of vampire flatmates living together in a large, decaying rental house on the outskirts of Wellington, New Zealand. Clement plays Vladislav, an oversexed, Vlad-the-Impaler-inspired medieval tyrant with a penchant for torture and hypnosis. Waititi plays Viago, an upbeat 18th-century dandy still pining for his long lost love, now a 90-year-old nursing home resident. They’re joined by Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), an arrogant European peasant from the late Middle Ages, and Petyr (Ben Fransham), an ancient, mute, verminous, and utterly terrifying 8,000-year-old Count Orlok creature who intimidates even the other vampires. Added to this core ensemble by Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a dimwitted bloke and newly-turned vampire rookie, Nick’s human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who everyone agrees is a pretty cool dude, and Jackie (Jackie van Beek), Deacon’s put-upon familiar who’s itching to become a vampire herself—plus a familiar face from Flight of the Conchord as the head of a rival werewolf clan (not sure if naming this actor is a spoiler—they’re not listed on IMDB.)
Understandably, the first thing that may come to mind when you hear the phrase “vampire roommates” is “shitty web series.” But Clement and Waititi have more up their courtly, crushed-velvet sleeves than just the trite juxtaposition of mundane domestic squabbling with otherworldly evil. The duo takes great care to individuate each character and build consistent, well-structured arcs for each. And like all successful spoofmeisters—from Mel Brooks to Zucker-Abrahms-Zucker to Edgar Wright—Clement and Waititi have an unambiguous affection for the subject of their parody, and a keen eye for detail. Every frame is filled with meticulously placed elements that inform both character and comedy, from wardrobe, to props, to running gags so sly they practically turn into a bat and fly away right in front of your face.
Each member of this midnight goon squad may come from a different geographical area, economic background, and time period, but they all have at least two things in common: they’re vampires, and they love each other. Shadows may seem like a slight bit of entertainment, but it’s actually a very astute exploration of friendship and community-building; specifically, about the types of micro-communities of otherwise ill-suited compatriots that inevitably form around marginalized subcultures, be they immigrant, ethnic, sexual, medical, or otherwise. The metaphor is vampires, but the film’s humanistic themes are highly relevant to anyone who’s ever felt simultaneously excluded and included due to their unalterable, innate nature.
What We Do in the Shadows feels like a breakout play for Clement and Waititi. It’s just so damn warm and funny. I’d love to see subsequent films or TV projects set in this world. So if your thirst for smart, lighthearted horror comedy is at least equal to your thirst for the steely tang of the exsanguinated nectar of mortal human fruit, you could do a lot worse. My memo to Clement and Waititi? Fangs for such a good time.