Movie Review: ‘WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS’ – A Bloody Brilliant Comedy


Cole Clay // Film Critic

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS | 86 min | Not Rated
Director: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham and Rhys Darby

New Zealand’s Jermaine Clement is best known for his partnership with Bret McKenzie and their musical comedy group Flight of The Conchords, but with that group on hiatus, Clement has taken some time aside to star in films and collaborate again with EAGLE VS SHARK writer-director Taika Waititi.

The partners share directing credits in a mockumentary about a group of vampires titled WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Waititi admittedly was reluctant to shoot the film in this form due to how overdone it has been over the years, but said “this was the only way I was going to stay interested in the project.” In fact, the project was conceived well over 10 years ago, way before Edward Cullen had any say-so in the realm of vampires.

By following the vampires and flat mates – Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Bruh), Vladislav (Clement), and the “Orlokian” Petyr (Ben Fransham) – they are shown being constantly at each other’s throats (no pun intended) with petty arguments, such as paying rent and fighting over who is going to hand-wash the blood soaked dishes.

Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh and Jemaine Clement star WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Photo courtesy of Unison Films, Paladin and The Orchard.

Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh and Jemaine Clement star WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Photo courtesy of Unison Films, Paladin and The Orchard.

It’s a wildly funny film in a recently crowded genre that plays contrary to the public persona of the undead. Yes, they are always seen turning a victim or being incredibly charming, but what happens when the camera is on them all the time? The result is incompetence and plenty of improvised dialogue.

Waititi and Clement show the far more nebbish side to the blood suckers while they struggle to keep up with the times, the complications of breaching carotid artery of that night’s dinner and the eternal struggle of having to be invited into a nightclub.

The vampire community in WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is somewhat dorky and far less glam that you would expect. For example, their main conflict is a Jets vs Sharks battle with a pack of werewolves led by Rhys Darby. While watching this brisk 87-minute film you get a sense of the rich backstory between the characters that is an utter delight to discover.

As light-hearted (to an extent) as the characters are, Clement and Waititi don’t skimp on the grizzly life of the forever nocturnal creatures. The awkwardness of Viago, Deacon and Vladislav has plenty of room for a sequel, but existing as a stand alone piece of comedic genius is fine by me.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is open in select theaters today.

In Dallas-Ft. Worth: Angelika Film Center in Dallas and Plano

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.