What We Do in the Shadows
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's mockumentary about the undead keeps the genre alive and well.
September 05, 2014
Mockumentaries tend to get a bit of a bad rap in critical circles. 'Lazy filmmaking' is the most common smear, and — to be fair — they are a far gentler form of screenwriting than an out-and-out screenplay. They've also experienced massive growth in recent years, most notably in television, with the likes of Modern Family, The Office and Summer Heights High all achieving both popular and critical success.
In film, This Is Spinal Tap set the benchmark way back in 1984 and has reigned supreme ever since — an 11 out of 10, if you will. The newest edition in the genre is What We Do In The Shadows, a collaboration between writer/directors Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement. Billed as "a couple of interviews with a couple of vampires", it's a fly on the wall 'documentary' about four vampires sharing a flat in present-day New Zealand and is, quite simply, hilarious.
The subjects of the film are: Viago (Waititi), an 18th-century dandy whose anal retentiveness makes him 'that' flatmate; Vlad (Clement), a legendary Lothario and formerly prolific hypnotist; Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the self-proclaimed 'sexy one'; and Petyr (Ben Fransham) an ancient vampire from the early days.
Key to its appeal is the way What We Do In The Shadows presents the needs, problems and activities of vampires as entirely commonplace. It makes them immediately relatable, treating something like the accidental puncturing of a victim's jugular and subsequent living room mess with no more pomp or fanfare than a spilled drink on a beige couch.
The flatmates cruise the clubs of Wellington seeking victims like others seek a one night stand, they jeer each other on when a back-alley argument descends into a 'bat fight', and they projectile vomit blood when they absentmindedly eat actual food. Yes, they've their share of 'vampire' problems (sunlight, vampire hunters, etc), but also more normal ones, like having to tell your best friend you're the undead and suppressing the unceasing desire to kill him.
What We Do in the Shadows also comes in at the welcome length of just 87 minutes, but its brevity doesn't come at the expense of jokes. It's packed with laughs, both visual and scripted, as well as offering a decent dose of improv (a common trait for mockumentaries). There's also more than a bit of horror and gore (so much so that with minimal tweaking this could easily have been reshaped as a solid B-grade scary film), yet there's no fear of fear thanks to the unbroken procession of gags. If this is lazy filmmaking, then bring on the trackies and couch surfing, because it suits us just fine.