I can tell you that “What We Do in the Shadows” is a mockumentary-style comedy about four vampire roommates, but I can’t capture in words the weird essence of this singularly hilarious oddity. While both the style and the subjects are arguably overdone, the characters in this little film are original and alive. Well, not alive exactly, but believable and vibrantly undead.
Another fact I can give you to try to convey the spirit of this thing is that New Zealand comedian Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) co-wrote and directed it with costar Taika Waititi. They play housemates, vampires from different ages, which gives the film a lengthy comedic introduction.
Clement’s character, Vladislav, is 862 years old, and sees things differently from the “bad boy” Deacon, a mere 183. Waititi, meanwhile, plays a romantic dandy of age 379, and is a sweet and understanding den mother to the others. The vampires’ different backgrounds, and their resulting differences in attitudes, is endlessly amusing, at least to me. The eldest is thousands of years old and is more of a silent, Nosferatu type.
There is not much of a plot; they just have ridiculous adventures, and the creators never miss a chance to cram every situation with hilarious details. When a recent vampire convert named Nick, whom they tried to merely drink but inadvertently turned into one of them, starts hanging around, the boys are reluctantly brought into the 21st century.
Nick also has a human best friend, Stu, and the affection that all the old vampires feel for Stu gives the film an almost emotional dimension. I would not go so far as to employ the word “serious,” but the otherwise selfish vampires’ attempts to fend off attacks against Stu add a dash of heart to the ludicrous mix, and concern for his welfare is the closest we get to suspense.
Werewolves, naturally, come to figure into this vampire story, and their alpha male is played by another “Flight of the Conchords” alum, Rhys Darby. As in many situations in this film, the practical considerations of fantasy figures are played for laughs. Darby exhorts fellow werewolves to wear big track pants to allow room for their legs to expand when they turn, and scolds one of the group for chaining himself to a tree that is too small, and using a combination lock.
“What We Do in the Shadows” is a marvelously preposterous romp, completely silly yet intelligent and witty. Even the special effects are sufficiently affecting. It is a ludicrous premise to which some very talented and hilarious people fully commit.