I missed What We Do in the Shadows during Lost Weekend III. Honestly, I don’t remember why- quite possibly I had a scheduling issue, but it’s more likely that I didn’t pay attention to what it was about, assuming it was a scary film and I’m not usually into horror flicks (sorry Faye!). So I got a copy from Bowman Library (front and center in the Film Club 3.0 display! Check it out), settled in to watch it, and almost turned it off during the first 15 minutes because I had no idea what I was seeing. I am here to tell you, I did not follow my instincts and BOY am I glad I didn’t! This film was a hilarious send up of campy vampires, reality TV, mockumentaries, and bromances. If you liked Best in Show, Spinal Tap and the like, this film is definitely for you.
Directed by and starring Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows was released in early 2015 (Diehard Film Clubbers will also recognize Jermaine Clement from People Places Things from Lost Weekend IV, as well as Flight of the Conchords). A “documentary” crew is following a group of vampires who share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand, a few months before the UnDead Masquerade Ball, basically the Oscars for vampires, witches and zombies. The documentary vibe is so very real- the crew follows them around with handheld cameras, there are awkward moments in the dark with only the camera light on, watching one of the vampires get awakened by his alarm clock set for 6:00 (PM), smiling sheepishly at the camera while trying to squeeze around the crew to brush his teeth, all the goofy things we’ve become accustomed to in the age of reality TV. But the actors and filmmakers do an unbelievable job satirizing the genre, while also acting as though it is a real documentary through their earnest performances, and simultaneously letting the audience in on the joke. These are multi-layered performances that must have been quite difficult, but come off as effortless.
There are three vampires who live upstairs in the flat- Vladislav (Clement), Viago (Waititi), and Deacon (Jonny Brugh). All became vampires at different times in history, which makes for some hysterical fights in the flat (Vlad: “Viago, he really is an 18th century dandy- he can be very fussy” —spoken over footage of Viago cleaning the flat, admonishing his flatmates when they get blood everywhere or don’t do the dishes-that all have blood caked on them).
There is one other vampire who lives in the basement, Petyr. He does not speak and does not participate in the flat very much (when they decide to have a “flat meeting” one of them asks “is Petyr coming?” with the reply “Petyr is 8000 years old. He is not coming to the meeting”). There are so many of these offhand ridiculous comments that are completely hysterical and did provoke some out loud laughter- I cannot remember the last time that happened!
The doc crew follows the vampires around during their every day life- going out to bars (“we must be invited in!”), taking care of the flat, feasting on human blood, rumbling with a pack of werewolves, getting ready for the Ball…I know I shouldn’t write down every single line of dialogue that was witty, sharp and totally on point, but I wish I could. One of my favorites was given by Vlad, when he was trying to explain why virgins are the preferred snack of vampires. “It’s like this: if you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if no one had fucked it.” And when Deacon’s long time human Jackie procures a couple of humans for them, but really wants to be turned by Deacon, she gives one of the most hilarious lines highlighting her feminist insight into the bromance culture and misogyny of vampires (because there is such a thing!): “all I know is that if I had a dick I would have been bitten long ago.”
One of the humans Jackie found is Nick, who becomes a new vampire. The doc crew follows him when he has to tell his human friend that he is now a vampire (remember- in pure reality TV form, sad music in the background, the crew hiding behind a door filming the conversation: “you know how I’ve been changing all our tennis games to night time tennis games?”); how he really misses eating chips, so he eats one and throws up blood all over the street, over and over and over, with Viago saying “I told you you shouldn’t have eaten that (like Snooki getting drunk and puking on Jersey Shore!)”.
The music in the film is one of the most interesting and eclectic soundtracks I’ve ever heard. I peeped at the soundtrack online and there was not one band or singer I recognized (except for the composer Vivaldi), but each song is completely on point. I especially liked the opening song, played while the vampires are doing chores and snipping at each other- it is called “You’re Dead”, recorded in 1966 by Norma Tanega, an American folk singer. I seriously thought it was recorded expressly for this film; I was surprised to find out it was from the 60s.
I simply cannot do this film justice with an 800 word review. It is smart, hilarious, and satirically perfect, and definitely worth a couple hours of your time.