By Elizabeth Shaw
Imagine watching through the eyes of a reality TV camera lens every notable vampire— Dracula, Nosferatu, Lestat, and more— as roommates who are making a go of it in Wellington, New Zealand. On the surface, this could accurately describe the 2014 feature “What We Do in the Shadows,” but this mockumentary horror-comedy distributed by Madman Entertainment offers much more.
The rise of competing ego-motivated agendas along with the security of companionship between like-minded friends can be, for right or wrong, the driving force behind human decisions. Vampires, as it turns out, are no better at relationships— at least not in New Zealand.
A fictional documentary crew follows the rich comedy of inhuman foibles featuring Jemaine Clement as Vladislav and Rhys Darby as Anton. Clement and Darby are perhaps best known for their work in the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords.”
The intrepid group of vampires, ranging from several hundred to several thousand years, old, are found to be treading water and just trying to make their way in the modern world. Suddenly, the arrival of newly-undead hipster Nick, who is new to the rules of being undead, and his still human best friend Stu unintentionally wreaks havoc upon the house in variously hilarious ways.
The production gives a definite tip-of-the-hat to the elaborate costuming that cinema has chosen for vampires over the decades culminating in the group’s preparations for the grand Monster Ball. All of the characters are uniquely developed and the unpretentious, funny ,performances are as quirky as they are innovative.
This uniquely New Zealand approach smacks of yesteryear’s “nicer” television programming all while putting just enough modern situations and content to maintain relevancy. In the end, similar to the critically acclaimed “Flight Of The Conchords,” the characters’ treatment of one another over the course of events gives some perspective to a kinder and gentler way of doing things in general.
The earnest, clean, and imaginative wit of “What We Do in the Shadows” is a nice departure from the often intense vulgarity of mainstream American comedies or their deeper and dryer British counterparts. Our Kiwi brethren across the ocean have created an artfully beautiful weaving of these two cultural influences that is becoming a brand of comedy all its own.