What We Do in the Shadows July 13, 2015
I tend to gravitate toward the Zucker/Zucker side of things when it comes to comedy. As a kid raised on Airplane! and The Naked Gun, there’s nothing better than a series of sight and sound gags that have more to do with a randomly placed guffaw than sly plot pushing. So the dry comedy subgenre doesn’t usually do it for me, unless we’re talking Arrested Development or anything Christopher Guest related. Then I’ll completely zone out and bathe in the spectacle that is the straight-faced one-liner delivery. Because in some ways, a well-crafted, deliciously complicated scenario akin to something you’d find in a particularly good episode of The Office can be just as potent as a quick belly laugh a la Scary Movie.
Mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows has much more in common with Best in Show than it does with Young Frankenstein, its lightly sarcastic demeanor interlacing with the fixtures of the macabre with comedic radiance. Such results would hardly be a possibility without Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame), who co-direct and co-write with such adeptness that the broad premise of the film never feels broad because the tones and textures of the movie itself convince and thoroughly delight.
The “We” of the title refers to a group of vampires being followed around by a camera crew. Occupying the same bungalow (or to be more scientific, den) for years, we are introduced to Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham).
Viago, age 379, is the “father” of the house, demanding his roommates attend group meetings to discuss things like the kitchen sink problem (no one has washed the dishes for five years), while he, in the meantime, mopes around about his long-lost love; Vladislav, at 800, used to be a hypnotic sexual demon in the same vein as Dracula, but has since lost his magic touch; Deacon is the young, wild one of the group (he’s a spry 183) who first got his immortal kicks as a Nazi vampire, while the ancient Petyr (8,000) intimidates everyone as the household’s Nosferatu. We also meet Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), the group’s human servant who hopes her handiwork will lead to her turning, and Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a twenty-something who was supposed to be a meal but ends up becoming a member of the household after Petyr inadvertently transforms him.
I could write as much as I want about What We Do in the Shadows, but never will I be able to capture the rhythm, the attitude, the genius of its humor. The ensemble is made up of skilled comedic performers, and the writing is endlessly clever (we can start with the vampirical hatred of the local werewolf pack or the annual get-together the undead throw to celebrate their undeadness, for starters). I found myself as quick to laugh as I was ready to gawk at the audacity of everyone involved. No one would decide that the best subjects of a mockumentary would be a group of self-serious vampires, and yet here we have one (a hilarious gem, no less) as sharp as the wooden stakes the focuses of the film so greatly fear. Clement and Waititi have outdone themselves. A find. A-