FEARNET Movie Review: 'What We Do in the Shadows' [SXSW 2014]


It's so simple a comedic concept that many filmmakers would walk past it due to sheer obviousness: a mockumentary about a handful of very old yet very childish vampires who sometimes try to assimilate into the modern world but mostly stay cooped up in their New Zealand estate so they can bicker about each other and bitch about the modern world.

But that's the beauty of an "obvious" idea: all it takes is a small infusion of creativity from a bunch of very funny people, and an obvious idea becomes something that will appeal to a wide array of movie geeks. That's what some pretty hilarious New Zealanders have pulled off with What We Do in the Shadows, a comedy that one could easily describe as a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary mixed with a very clever satire of reality shows like The Real World or Big Brother -- but that'd also be selling this movie short.
Co-created by frequent collaborators Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and several funny guys I just met in this movie, What We Do in the Shadows is one clever comedy sketch that runs 85 minutes and feels more like 40. Perhaps 38. Mr. Clement, who could make this reviewer laugh just by reading nonsense -- like he did in the otherwise unwatchable Gentlemen Broncos -- gets some of the best gags as the unjustifiably cocky "leader" of the vamp pack, and that's good news because Clement is the "biggest" of the flick's stars.
The better news? The entire ensemble is great. Writer/director Taika Waititi plays the sweet and refined "dandy" of the vampire clan; Jonny Brugh is the bad boy troublemaking bloodsucker (he's only 107, after all); Nick (Cori Gonzalez Macuer) is the true newbie who goes from low-key nobody to a pretty cool vampire overnight; some normal human nobody called Stu (Stu Rutherford); a dessicated old grouch called Petyr (Ben Fransham); and a pesky werewolf boss (Rhys Darby) who loves to make trouble for vampires.
The "plot" is little more than a series of interviews and vignettes in which the cast takes pleasure in poking fun at various aspects of vampire lore, but not surprisingly (given the filmmakers), What We Do in the Shadows is more deadpan, clever, and silly than it is simple, "schticky," or mean-spirited. And while Shadows is most assuredly a full-fledged comedy in horror clothing, fans of the darker genre will certainly enjoy how colorfully gory the movie gets during some of the best visual gags. 
You don't have to love vampires to giggle your way through this effortlessly appealing little import from New Zealand, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. But if you don't love vampires, why are you reading a website called FEARNET? Exactly. Case closed. What We Do in the Shadows is a great vampire comedy. Sounds like faint praise at first, but really: how many great vampire comedies are there?