I can’t say if Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi are the biggest comedy voices in New Zealand. They are, however, the two that been have been able to make their way to American shores more than any others. Clement is best known for his work in Flight of the Conchords, the band and the television series. Waititi has seen his first two features (Eagle vs Shark and Boy) each reach our shores, the latter of which outgrossed the likes of Inception and Toy Story 3 in its homeland. Clement and Waititi have joined forces to bring about the latest vampire film, a mockumentary called What We Do in the Shadows.
Each actor also stars in the movie, Waititi as the kind and relatively meager bloodsucker Viagao, with Clement playing the desperate to stay cool one Vladislav. They live together in a dilapidated house with the shouldn’t be so cocky Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and the ancient, Nosferatu lookalike Petyr (Ben Fransham). The four are followed around by a faceless camera-crew, for why exactly it’s never established or important. It’s just an excuse for jokes and the kind of talk to the camera style that has become a comedy staple. As for a plot, well, there is a minor one. The fellas end up siring Nick, who grows to learn his various vampire abilities, along with the dos and don’ts of staying under-wraps amongst mankind.
What We Do in the Shadows is a successful comedy that is also an occasionally frustrating one. Many jokes are funny, clever riffs on all things undead and otherworldly, from our pointy-teethed leads to werewolves. The jokes largely play off how out-of-touch vampires have become since they are forced to stay remote. Yes, they can, and do, snatch stylish outfits from their victims. Yet, they can’t use a mirror to know how good they look in them, requiring literal drawings from friends or flatmates to see how they look. When the guys discover the internet, where you can search specifically for images of virgins, it’s stupendous, complete with the capper, “I don’t think she’s a virgin if she’s doing that.”
There are a number of fresh takes on vamp culture too, including a terrific bit where a gag pays off about the difficulty of changing into various animals. The jokes are easy and effective, like a bit where a werewolf leader berates his pack about not wearing stretchy pants before transformation; surely those nice new jeans are done for.
About halfway in though, it all feels kind of uniform. It’s all pitched at the same tenor, making for a viewing experience that kind of lulls one into complacency. Of course, a lot of the best comedies are that way at first, growing exponentially on repeat viewings once you recognize the depth of the one-liners and asides. What We Do in the Shadows has the potential to catapult to something more, or it’s pacing could truly be an issue. Time will tell. What’s obvious now is nonetheless very pleasurable.
What We Do in the Shadows opens in Seattle tomorrow.