These days good comedies are a rarity which makes finding one all the more special. The genre’s landscape is overloaded with obnoxious raunchy comedies and shallow Sandler-esque toilet humor. If you aren’t a fan of those two brands finding an enjoyable modern comedy may be a chore. But “What We Do in the Shadows” is one of the rare exceptions – a highly original comedy that is also smart in its open embrace of absurdity.
Calling the film “smart” may be stretch for some, but I think the filmmakers are devilishly perceptive. Co-writers, co-directors, and co-stars Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are very well aware of the type of humor they are employing. The Wellington, New Zealand duo create a concept so ridiculous on the surface yet pulsing with focused energy and a satiric edge. It shows smarts in its concept, smarts in its execution, smarts in its structure, and perhaps most importantly smarts in its ability to maintain a genuinely funny premise from start to finish.
While pondering a way to describe the film I kept coming back to ‘a vampire mockumemtary meets “The Real World”. It presents itself as a found-footage reality show and/or documentary. The first thing we see is a cheap, grainy production graphic from “The New Zealand Documentary Board”. From there we are immediately injected into the world of four vampires living together in a Wellington flat. Our perspective is through the lens of a documentarian’s camera.
First we are introduced to the four vampires. The 379 year-old Viago (Waititi) is a good-hearted 16th century neat-freak. Vladislov (Clement) is an 862 year-old medieval fashionista. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the youngster of the bunch – 183 years-old and a bit of a rebel. And then there is 8,000 year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) who hisses more than speaks and has an uncanny resemblance to Count Orlok from “Nosferatu”. All four are uniquely funny which makes their quirky camaraderie a real treat.
It doesn’t take long to recognize the vibe Waititi and Clement are shooting for. The dry, deadpan humor. The constant awareness and conversations with the camera. The straight-faced approaches by the actors regardless of a scene’s nuttiness. All of it contributes to a movie which genuinely feels like a reality show or a documentary. It just happens to be spotlighting vampire roommates from different eras with very limited connections to the modern world outside their doors.
Occasionally they go out to enjoy a socially awkward night on the town. Other times we see them having a “flat meeting” to discuss house duties. There are an assortment of camera confessionals talking about everything from lost loves to frustrations with roommates to favorite torture practices. And there are several funny bits after the boys are introduced to the wonders of YouTube, eBay, and Skype. Most of these scenes are given to us in pinches which are the perfect portions. They also toss in a very small handful of side characters who serve the story nicely.
“What We Do in the Shadows” is such a breath of fresh air. It’s a comedy that consistently delivers laughs without clinging to unfunny cliches or the hot current genre trends. Rarely does the movie miss a beat and its cleverness shows itself in a host of ways. It is subtly subversive, subtly satirical, and openly absurd. Waititi and Clement craft one very funny movie that clearly isn’t a film for the movie masses. I can see some people rolling their eyes and some people dismissing it altogether. I found it to be a hysterical reminder that there are comedies willing to do their own thing and do it very well.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Just got this. Remember watching the trailer and it looked fantastic. Now I’m even more hyped to put it into the player. Great review, Keith.
Thanks man. One of my favorites of the year. Completely ridiculous but so very smart in its nuttiness. I laughed throughout wish was so refreshing!
Nice review, Keith! I’ve only heard great things about this. Today I was lining up my queue and forgot about this one. Thank for reminding me!
Thanks Cindy! Fabulous movie. Very simple but brilliantly absurd. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. It may not be for everyone but I loved it.
Both you and Ruth liked it; I will, too. 🙂
It is silly beyond measure. But it works so well. It’s definitely unlike anything you’ve seen before!
Well said, Keith. Loved this one. I had some moments here where I was wiping tears away from my eyes I was laughing so hard. Very rare that I do that in comedies. lol
Dude, I was rolling on a number of occasions. This is one oddball movie and I loved it for every ounce of its goofiness. Considering my frustrations with the comedy genre, this was a real treat
Have you watched any of Clement’s musicomedy duo Flight of the Concords? It’s great stuff, very similar in tone to this but with the added bonus of having good music played live on stage. I highly recommend catching that if you haven’t.
I knew that was from Clement but I’ve never seen it. I’ll have to check it out!
It is such a hilarious film, the werewolves bits were my favorite.
Yes, werewolves, not swearwolves. I think it was a werewolves scene that made me laugh the hardest.
Completely agree! Definitely the funniest film I saw in 2014, although I feel like you in that there weren’t many to choose from. This is exactly the kind of film that you’d expect to run out of steam but I was laughing just as much at the end as I was at the beginning.
Yep. Glad it finally opened up over here this year. Hilarious. I can see this one being mentioned again on my end of the year list. I like it that much.
It was in my top 20 for 2014!
Oh I can see why!
I am THRILLED that you love this one Keith!! I actually have my review done but will post it later this week. Like you, I’m not a fan of obnoxious raunchy comedies filled w/ disgusting sex jokes & foul language. This one is surprisingly *clean* and the humor is genuinely hilarious because the situation is hilarious. I actually just recommended this to my coworker this morning, my blu-ray copy just arrived a few days ago so I’m waiting to rewatch it. I know it’ll get a lot of play in my house 😀
My gosh Ruth, this thing is hilarious. I laughed and laughed. Most impressively it never runs out of gas. And the characters! I can’t say enough.
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This is is still one of my favs from the first half of the year. I laughed a l ot.
Without a doubt. And it never loses steam. Funny from start to finish.
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