What We Do in the Shadows

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Laura Clifford 
What We Do in the Shadows

Robin Clifford 

Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) are three roomies who happen to be vampires.  When their 8,000 year-old roommate Petyr (Ben Fransham, "30 Days of Night") turns 'dinner guest' Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), they must initiate the lad into their lifestyle as a documentary crew follows them to capture "What We Do in the Shadows."

Beginning with a washed out New Zealand Documentary logo and a title card explaining that crew members are wearing crucifixes and have been promised they will not be eaten, cowriters/codirectors/stars Jemaine Clement (HBO's 'Flight of the Conchords') and Taika Waititi ("Boy") launch us into their delightful mockumentary with a hand reaching out from inside a coffin to turn off a digital alarm clock.  Viago, the 18th century 'dandy' vampire, carefully checks outside the curtain at 6 p.m. before waking his flatmates.  Deacon, the 187 year old 'youthful' vamp, hangs in a closet.  Vladislav 'The Poker,' a bit of a pervy torturer, is still involved in an orgy and demands that the flat meeting be delayed by ten minutes.  Then, after putting a live chicken in a sack, Viago heads to the basement where Petyr, the Nosferatu-like monster, makes even Viago jumpy, but not so much that he cannot chastise his elder for leaving spinal columns laying about the floor.

What's so funny about "What We Do in the Shadows" is that Clement and Waititi have come up with classic roommate situations - undone dishes, the friend no one wants hanging around, the shared camaraderie of getting ready for a night on the town together - and turned their roommates into bloodsuckers.  When their intended dinner is turned into one of them ('Who let Petyr out?'), not only do they need to indoctrinate him into the lifestyle, but they have to deal with his best mate, the taciturn software analyst Stu (Stuart Rutherford, "Boy") who teaches them how to Google and gives Vladislav a new outlet for his poking fixation.  Although they accept the human in their midst (indeed they seem to like Stu more than Nick), Nick's over embracement of his new immortality begins to cause some major problems.

Although there's no sign of Clement's Conchords partner Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby, who played their manager pops up as Anton, the alpha male of a werewolf pack the lads rumble with. There are also problems with Renfield-like human servants always wanting their deals fulfilled.  Local police can be hypnotized to avoid noticing the abnormal, although safety violations are not tolerated.  Everything comes to a head at the Unholy Masquerade held at the Cathedral of Despair (er, the local bowling club) where Vladislav's hope of being the Guest of Honor is dashed by the choice of his nemesis - The Beast.

Waititi is the first among equals here, his wide-eyed innocence on display even in the midst of slaughter ('I think she had a nice time'), his fussy aesthetics a cause of household friction. He and Clement, who based the film on a short they'd made in 2005, have a deadpan, low-budget approach that adds to the hilarity (flying effects are ever so wobbly, werewolf transitions involve a lot of bluster).  An early montage gives a historical representation of each of the four housemates, showing how the bloodsuckers ended up in New Zealand, several group photos worthy of their own prequels.

Robin also gives "What We Do in the Shadows" a B+.
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