A Review of Clement and Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows: Smart, Funny, and Well-Executed

What We Do in the Shadows review

Film: What We Do in the Shadows
Directors: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Primary Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Ben Fransham, Rhys Darby, Stuart Rutherford,
US Release Date: 13 February 2015

As a Flight of the Conchords fan, I was intrigued when I first heard about What We Do in the Shadows, but since I did not expect the film to show anywhere in Tulsa, I did not pay much attention to it either.

Fast forward to this past Friday. I’m at home, minding my own business, and my sister calls to tell me that her room mate has mysteriously acquired numerous free tickets to a showing of What We Do in the Shadows at Tulsa’s one and only independent theater. Have I heard of the film? Do I want to come? Yes and yes.

So here we are.

A Vampire Mockumentary that Does not Suck
What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary that follows the daily lives of 3 vampires living together in 21st century New Zealand. The group consists of Viago (Waititi), a 18th century dandy, Deacon (Brugh), who was in Hitler’s army of Nazi vampires, and Vladislav (Clement) who hails from the middle ages and has a thing for torture. The trio have another flat mate, Petyr, who is 8000 years old and looks a good deal like Nosferatu, but he doesn’t talk or get out much.

Over the course of the film, these vampires squabble over chores, try on the clothes they’ve stolen from their victims, try to get invited into various Wellington night clubs, talk trash with a local gang of werewolves, entertain themselves through erotic dance, and quite a bit more. They also accidentally turn one of their would-be victims into a vampire (only to discover that he’s not particularly well suited to their lifestyle) and end up befriending a human IT guy named Stu.

If a 2015 vampire mockumentary doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, think again. While a vampire comedy/parody may not sound terribly original in this day and age, What We Do in the Shadows truly is a success. Together, Clement and Waititi, have created an inspired, intelligent, and well-paced vampire comedy that is, quite simply, a whole lot of fun. 

Review Time
One might think that vampires living in a flatting situation isn’t enough of a premise to sustain an 87-minute film, but they would be wrong to do so.

Sure, What We Do in the Shadows does feature some jokes and gags that are better, fresher, or memorable than others, but it also does a great job of remaining funny, engaging, and entertaining throughout. I’ve read that a good deal of the film was improvised and that over 120 hours of footage was edited down to make the final film. Certainly, whoever did this editing should be credited—not only with helping to create a quality piece of comedic cinema, but also for distilling things down enough so that the film never feel boring or like it should have ended earlier.

The film does a fine job of mixing skillfully crafted dry humor with more flashy moments of sheer absurdity. For the most part, this is a deadpan film (amen hallelujah I’m so happy that it is), but it also genuinely funny, and it isn’t afraid to toss in a gag or two that is a little more over-the-top and in-your-face.

Thanks in part to its rather dry tone (as well as to its undead subject matter), What We Do in the Shadows also manages to mix a certain somber tone and even a few moments of melancholy into what is, for the most part, a rather silly affair. This helps to round out the film and its characters and gives a certain depth to the film.

Perhaps the most important thing I can say about the film is that it approaches vampires and the horror genre in an intelligent, and refreshing way. As someone who has read Dracula numerous times and who once had to read Twilight and Dead Until Dark for a class in a single week, it’s nice to see a parody of vampire stories that has some real meat behind it. At the same time, What We Do in the Shadows certainly does not take itself too seriously either, and it’s more fun for it.

It’s also nice that the film does not go out of its way to name drop what’s it’s referencing every few moments (to do so, would certainly cheapen the whole affair). For instance, when viewers learn that Vladislav was once known as Vladislav the Poker, it’s clear that the film wants us to consider the fact that he would have rather been Vlad the Impaler—that is, if that name were still available. Similarly, the film does not need to include scenes of Stu fainting at the sight of blood for viewers to figure out that this silent and incredibly dull IT guy is its version of Bella Swan.

Until Next Time
Thank you for reading! If What We Do in the Shadows, plays near you, then I would certainly recommend that you see it. This well executed comedy had me giggling and grinning much more than I expected it to. It’s a great deal of fun, and is sure to please fans of Flight of the Conchords, of deadpan humor, and of comedy that is smart and delightfully silly all at once. Between this film and Kingsman, I’ve certainly laughed more at the movie theater lately than I usually do.

4 thoughts on “A Review of Clement and Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows: Smart, Funny, and Well-Executed

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