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