Amusing and slight, “What We Do in the Shadows” is a mockumentary drawn from the same sensibilities that produced “Flight of the Conchords,” “Eagle v. Shark” and “Boy,” among others.
Written and directed by the team of Jemaine Clement and Taiki Watiti, this film presents a flock (coven? pride? school?) of vampires, sharing a flat in contemporary New Zealand. The documentarians supposedly have not only been granted access to film the vampires’ private lives, but have been promised that the vampires won’t eat them.
The joke, of course, is that roommates – even vampire roommates – tend to have issues. In this case, it’s the prissy Viago (Waititi), a mittel-European vampire who had himself shipped to New Zealand (on a ship that apparently was a local, rather than an express) – he’s the house mother who maintains the “chore wheel” and scolds the flatmate who has fallen five years behind in doing the dishes.
Viago can’t understand why his cohabitants have to be so messy in general. If you know blood is going to spurt from a victim’s neck, be courteous enough to at least put down a towel.
“We don’t put down towels – we’re vampires,” grumps Vlad (Clement), a Transylvanian so old that his shape-shifting powers are on the wane.
The struggles within the house include generational ones: Both Viago and Vlad are several hundred years older than Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who hasn’t even reached his second century. Deacon, in turn, gets upset when a potential victim, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), instead is turned into a vampire and moves in. But Nick is a callow hipster who doesn’t get the whole “in the shadows” aspect of vampire life and keeps telling people that he is, in fact, a vampire. Plus he maintains a friendship with a lumpish human pal, Stu.
The jokes are a mix of silly, smart and stupid, with plays on vampire lore (the vampires all dress horribly because they can’t see themselves in mirrors) and the witty juxtaposition of horror movie tropes and real life (including several funny demonstrations of just how messy and gory the vampire life can be).
The wit is dry, never in your face as shtick, even as outrageous things happen onscreen. Comedy is a very subjective thing and I can imagine people who won’t find “What We Do in the Shadows” funny. But I can’t imagine that they have happy lives.