What we do in the shadows

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori González- Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Jackie van Beek, Rhys Darby. Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. 86 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language and sex scenes).

The important part of the title is not the “shadows” but the “we”. “We” are, in fact, dwellers in Wellington, New Zealand, but vampires! Migrants from Europe, they found New Zealand a peaceful place to which to migrate and settle. Further, in fact, there are many witches, groups of werewolves as well as vampires peacefully living as citizens of the New Zealand capital. At least, that is what this film claims.

And who would think up such a scenario? The answer is Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. The two of them are very talented Kiwi writers, directors and actors. Waitit directed The Flight of the Conchordes and directed the moving New Zealand film about a Maori boy, Boy. Clement has acted in The Flight of the Conchordes as well as a number of American films including Men in Black 4 and gives his distinctive voice to the villain, Nigel, in the Rio films.

It is hoped that nobody is taking this too seriously. This is a comedy, and quite a funny comedy it is, plenty of rollicking jokes, deadpan verbal humour, and a smile on the audience’s face throughout the whole film. It is a very good example of the mockumentary genre, even with old-fashioned title-images from the New Zealand documentary unit of the past. It is Un-Reality TV!

Viago (Waititi) is the host for the documentary, welcoming the camera crew into his house, a flat which is shared with three other vampires. They are of varying age, the age of Viago himself almost 400, but they also have a resident in the basement, Petyr, several thousand years old and the image of the famous Nosferatu. We are soon at the kitchen table because Viago has called a meeting to discuss the roster for the chores, to criticise The Deacon, for avoiding his responsibilities and not wanting to wash up – but he is soon at the kitchen sink washing up bloodstained crockery. It is that kind of film.

Viago is a very pleasant host, working very well with the camera crew who seem to be in on every scene (no matter how impossible). A lot of amusing episodes within the flat. However, the vampires want to go out on the town and, not having any appearance in mirrors, they are not sure how properly they addressed – they are not, very old-fashioned. And often they are not allowed into clubs. Sometimes on the way they encounter a group of young men who turned out to be the local werewolves.

It does become a bit complicated when a young man, Nick, is invited into the flat and at the end of the evening is bitten and transformed. He thinks this is something of a hoot, giving him definitely a better lifestyle, and he has no hesitation in telling everybody what has happened to him. This does arouse the interest of a vampire hunter who comes to the house and wreaks a bit of devastation.

The other principal character is Stu, a rather silent, all laconic, passive young man, an expert in IT, who is able to introduce the vampires to the Internet and working on their laptops. This is especially the case for Vladislav (Clement) who has been disappointed in love, referring to his former partner as The Beast.

There is another entertaining character, Jackie, who desperately wants to be transformed but who is a vampire slave, doing all the cleaning and tidying up in the flat. She has no hesitation in talking to camera and explaining everything.

We have been told at the beginning that there is a big social event coming up, where all vampires, werewolves and local witches turn up for dancing. There are some climactic moments, especially with The Beast and some of the guests at the social taking a dim view of Stu gate-crashing, being an ordinary human.

And, in the appropriate words of Shakespeare, all is well that ends well! Quite a different entertainment.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


Out September 4, 2014.