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

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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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.