A film crew documents the lives of four vampires who share a house in modern day Wellington, New Zealand in this riotous horror-comedy. Medieval tyrant Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), dandy Viago (Taika Waititi), “bad boy” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and the Nosferatu-like Petyr (Ben Fransham) all have their problems dealing with the modern world, but with any luck the addition of newly-undead Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) to their coven will hopefully help them with pressing issues as esoteric as not being able to enter nightclubs without being invited and as prosaic as keeping on top of the cleaning roster.
Horror spoofs are hard to pull off if you don’t know what you’re talking about – reflect on the atrociously bad Vampires Suck of a few years ago and shudder. Happily, with What We Do In The Shadows writer/directors Waititi and Clement demonstrate a fan’s love of the genre. It’s all in the details: the different vampire archetypes exemplified by the characters, the nods to obscure undead lore, the Hammer Horror-inspired design choices. Rather than take the easy route of slinging stones at Twilight, the filmmakers have pulled out some deep cuts.
Don’t think that makes the film inaccessible, though; above all else, …In The Shadows is just flat-out hilarious. The contrast between the fantastical and the mundane is played up for full effect, and the cast are all committed to the premise well beyond the point of (intentional) ridiculousness. And while much of the dialogue is improvised, so much of it is eminently quotable; like the Monty Python movies, The Blues Brothers and Withnail And I before it, this is a film we’re going to be hearing lines from forever. “Werewolves, not swearwolves.” is already out there.
For all that, at its core the film is warm and humane – or, at least, as humane as a film about a group of largely unrepentant killers can be. Whether it’s Viago’s Highlander-esque pining for a lost – and now aged – love or the groups hapless attempts at simply coping with contemporary unlife, there’s a kind of wistfulness in the mix that edges up to outright sadness. While it never overwhelms the comedy, the undercurrent is always present, adding some welcome depth to the proceedings.
There’s a world of difference between films that are trying to be cult classics and films that just are cult classics – for one thing, the former generally fall short of the mark. What We Do In The Shadows not only hits the mark, it drives a stake right through it. Smart, funny, geeky and insightful, it’s the sort of film whose success will be measured not by immediate box office takings but by the devoted audience it will cultivate for years. Much like it’s protagonists, it is immortal.