“What We Do in the Shadows” is one of my favorite films of all time. This is the perfect horror comedy that has some brilliant sendups to other vampire films in the characters they are while still inhabiting an original compelling universe. Suffice to say I highly recommend this one. Waititi and Clement are at their best in direction, writing and acting.
As said above this was directed and written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
The story is a documentary following the lives of vampire flatmates Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and the ancient Petyr (Ben Fransham) in the lead-up to the Unholy Masquerade.
The World – The world of “What We Do in the Shadows” is fascinating. This is our world but inhabited by vampires, werewolves, ghouls and witches who have organizations and host parties and are trying to get by unnoticed. It is fascinating and gives an interesting dynamic to be explored in the documentary.
The Soundtrack – Plan 9 created a popping soundtrack that feels timeless given the immortals the story is following. It is catchy but also gives moments for reflection.
The Comedy – The comedy is hilarious. The film is done mockumentary style so there is a lot of situational dark comedy of the vampires living their lives as most of the humor works with them being “fish out of water.” From here Clement and Waititi only take the premise deeper with the characters and situations they create.
The Characters – The characters arcs are what make the film compelling as in this film most of the character situations change by the end. It is really well done how they are all weaved together.
Jackie – Jackie is Deacon’s “Familiar,” basically a vampire servant who wants to become one herself. Deacon continues to deny her this and we get to see how she brings them people and cleans up the messes after they’ve eaten the people. By the end she has become a vampire though as after Nick’s exile he changes her.
Deacon – Deacon is the worst of the bunch as in he’s the most unlikable and egotistical. Petyr was the one who changed him into a vampire and he sees himself as a rockstar, but he has to be pushed to do the dishes. We see his caring side come out though when he believes Stu is dead, showing he has some dynamic to his character.
Anton – Anton played wonderfully by Rhys Darby is the leader of a pack of local werewolves. They clash with the vampire flatmates on a few occasions with Anton being the one keeping back a fight. Later when they change they end changing Stu into a werewolf which leads to a peace and the possibility of friendship with the vampire flatmates. He’s one of my favorite characters in the film, though I have a few of those.
Petyr – Petyr is over 8,000 years old and takes inspiration from Nosferatu in appearance. He never talks but his approach to feeding is to turn any person he drinks from into a vampire. The implication from the story is he probably was the one who turned all the flatmates. In this way he is way more generous with immortality than the others who hold it pretty close. Deacon as the greatest illustration of the selfishness. In the end he is killed by the sunlight when a vampire hunter breaks in through a window in his basement home leading to the sunlight killing him. Ben Fransham does a great job acting entirely through facial expressions.
Nick – Nick is turned by Petyr when he manages to escape the flatmates trap and is ambushed outside their home. His arc is making peace with it as we see him grow to hate being a vampire after celebrating it initially. It is after his exile for telling the vampire hunter he was a vampire, which lead to Petyr’s death that he is exiled and seems to find some balance and identity in himself after leaving. He introduces the group to Stu, who is their favorite human and who they like more than Nick and who Nick first tells he is a vampire.
Vladislav – Vladislav, known as Vladislav the Poker is based off the Gary Oldman “Dracula” and was once a warlord and ruler. He fell from power after he and his wife broke-up, who he calls “The Beast.” Jemaine Clement gives this character so much nuance as you see his sorrow, ego and adapting to the modern world. His arc by the end of the film is confronting his ex and their eventual getting back together in their toxic relationship.
Viago – Viago is terrible but also a bit of a sweety. His approach is to make others feel comfortable and to have a good time before he kills them. He’s also a romantic too and pines for the woman he had moved to New Zealand for in the first place. He is the peacemaker of the group and can be a bit passive-aggressive while also being a bit of a troll towards the other vampires who aren’t the flatmates. He’s my favorite of the flatmakes, closely followed by Vladislav and Taika Waititi plays him brilliantly. In the end he reunites with his original love, who is now an old woman and turns her into a vampire.
Stu – Stu has the best arc in the film and is really the heart of it. He is the human friend of the flatmates and Nick’s best friend. He is protected by the group when the Unholy Masquerade wants to eat him and the group believing he is dead is something they take harder than Petyr’s death. His good nature and tech savvy endear him to the group and he is the reason that the rest of the werewolves are welcomed as potential friends after he is made one of them when he is attacked and bitten by one after the Unholy Masquerade. Stu Rutherford did a great job playing him.
At this point I’d say 2 vampire films make it into my favorite films. This film and “Only Lovers Left Alive.” I think Coppola’s “Dracula” has the possibility to be but I’ll need to watch it again. Great comedy is hard to write, especially in regards to film versus television but this is something Waititi and Clement did brilliantly. I’ve heard great things about the show too, so I plan to see that as well. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this amazing film.
Final Score: 10 / 10