What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★
There are very few comedies that tickle me to the soul from beginning to end and “What We Do in the Shadows,” written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, is one of them. What could have been a one-note joke about a documentary crew capturing the every day lives of four vampires living together is turned into a wellspring of creativity that is so endlessly quotable, I wanted to see it again right after the credits.
The jokes command range. Perhaps easiest to pick up on are the pop culture references of recent mainstream films. At one point, a character (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) tells random people that he is the actor from “Twilight” and that is why cameramen are following him. One cannot help but wonder if these scenes were shot without the extras being fully aware that a feature film is being made because their reactions are so spot-on and natural. There is a synergy between acting and realism. Part of the enjoyment is seeing how ordinary people react to someone who they might consider to be drunk.
It requires a bit more attention to appreciate the subtler jokes. The dialogue is teeming with funny bits all at once that perhaps a second viewing is required. Exchanges amongst fellow flatmates are at their best when generational gaps are underlined. Each vampire has a distinct personality and perspective about how to live. For instance, the first few minutes highlights their differences, from Viago (Taika Waititi), who is three hundred seventy-nine years old, leading a house meeting because he has grown tired of the unkempt state of their flat, to Deacon (Jonny Brugh), the youngest of the group, who does not see the point of cleaning up for themselves exactly because they are monsters.
Even the images are genius. In-between scenes and during interview sessions, a series of drawings, paintings, and photographs are shown in order to convince us that these vampires have hundreds of years worth of history and that they have a history together. These seemingly insignificant touches elevate the film from being a good faux-documentary comedy to one that can and should be enjoyed decades from now. Also, kudos to the look and portrayal of the eight-thousand-year-old vampire named Petyr (Ben Fransham). He does not say a word but he is memorable.
Other creatures are sewn into the fabric of the story which makes room for even more laughter. Any scene with the pack of werewolves is hilarious. Even the zombies, who we normally expect to simply lumber around, actually get a chance to speak. There is a running bit about a servant-master relationship between a human (Jackie van Beek) and one of the vampires. Because our expectations are consistently turned on their heads, we look forward to what else it can offer. Thus, even though the film is less than ninety minutes, it feels much shorter than it is.
“What We Do in the Shadows” has intelligence, perfect timing, imagination, and is willing to take risks. At one point, I stopped to wonder if the work had been a real documentary. It would still work because the filmmakers treat their subject with empathy without dulling some of the more difficult aspects of living a life after death. This is not to be missed.