TIFF Journal: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

'What We Do in the Shadows'

Movie Rating:


‘Flight of the Conchords’ member Jemaine Clement (a.k.a. not the ‘Muppets’ one) reteams with his other partner, co-writer/director Taika Waititi (‘Eagle vs. Shark’), for a hysterical vampire comedy with more laughs than they have any right to get out of their premise. This vampire mockumentary would make both Christopher Guest and Bram Stoker proud, which is no easy feat given the familiarity of the form and subject matter.

Vladislav (Clement), Viago (Waititi) and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) are three Wellington flatmates who’ve enjoyed each other’s company for centuries. They tell bad jokes, argue about doing the dishes and play music together. Then at night, they all head out to suck blood. They’re vampires, but very laid back and casual about it. That’s the central joke of the movie, and it’s easily good enough to carry 86 minutes of gothic chuckles.

For the most part, the filmmakers take vampire staples and shove them into amusingly mundane contemporary settings. The characters hypnotize locals to do chores and bring them blood, keep their ancient Nosferatu-style buddy in the basement as a sort of pet, feud with the local werewolves (hilariously and awkwardly led by Rhys Darby, who firmly believes in wearing stretchy pants on transformation night), and head out to the annual gathering at the local Cathedral of Despair (i.e. the Bowling Club). The movie doesn’t have much plot to speak of. It’s more a collection of jokes and characters, but they’re such excellent jokes and finely observed characters that it doesn’t matter.

One of the most impressive aspects of the movie is that, as directors, Clement and Waititi never shy away from special effects set-pieces. Their characters fly at will, transform into bats, manipulate reality, fight along the walls of rotating sets, and take part in a number of other classic vampire action scenes. Yet, the effects never overtake the laughs because they’re always presented in the same offhandedly casual and mundane manner as the character comedy. There are some genuinely impressive sequences here, yet the filmmakers never really draw attention to them and deliver a far better movie for it.

‘What We Do in the Shadows’ is a delightfully deadpan and silly comedy that embraces its goofy horror premise without being overwhelmed by it. It’s so charming, hilarious and entertaining that it already feels like a cult film. All it needs to achieve that status is the cult. It’s a safe bet that once the movie gets out to enough eyeballs, that audience will find it.


    • The movie may not even have a distributor yet to make those decisions. Could be months. Could be years. Could be direct-to-video. Could be never. Clement has enough of a cult following that I’m sure this will get some sort of distribution, but right now the movie is just working its way through the festival circuit.

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