One-half of the Flight of the Conchords duo who brought you “Business Time” and “Foux de Fa Fa,” and the genius behind award-winning “Boy,” are back with “What We Do in the Shadows”— a feature-length film that in my opinion trumps any of the Flight of the Conchords’ most famous videos. It’s not just a documentary, not just a vampire movie — it’s a vampire mockumentary. Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (“Boy”) have created something funny and subversive, and they take themselves just seriously enough to do the trick.
The parody horror movie gimmick is done often, but Waititi and Clement trump all their predecessors. The film mocks vampires. It mocks vampire movies. It mocks documentaries, reality TV and just about every film and literary trope (the bad boy, the virgin, the sentimental happy ending). But it does so pointedly, with an incredible awareness of the tropes it mocks.
The film begins with a typical documentary disclaimer: “In 2013 camera crews gained access to a highly secretive society. They were granted protection by the subjects of the film.” We’re first introduced to Viago, age 379, who wakes up by alarm at 6 p.m. and then introduces the audience to his roommates: Deacon, Vladislav and Petyr, who, being 8,000 years old, doesn’t have to attend the flat meeting. The vampires, as we expect, are afraid of sunlight, only drink blood, vomit blood when they ingest food and have creepily pale skin.
We follow Viago, Deacon and Vladislav as they argue over chores, navigate the Wellington bar scene and interact with humans, werewolves and other monsters. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), being just 183 years old, is the irresponsible rebel of the group, amateur erotic dancer and former “vampire Nazi.” Viago (Taika Waititi) is a neat freak who organizes the flatmates’ cleaning schedule (“Deacon, you haven’t washed the dishes in five years!”) and lays newspapers down on the couch before he kills his victims. Vladislav (Jermaine Clement) has an affinity for furs and calls his style “deadly but delicious.” When a virgin-eating ritual goes wrong, should’ve-been-dinner Nick (Cori Gonzalez Macuer) becomes a new flatmate. Nick’s entrance into their world shakes things up: He brags about being a vampire in public (“Do you want to draw attention to this house, Nick?” “You have a whole documentary crew following you around”); he introduces his flatmates to his human friend, Stu (Stu Rutherford), and he teaches them how to use social media.
The film ceaselessly mocks every single vampire convention. We have your uninteresting, sad human woman — Deacon’s “servant,” Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) — who desperately wants to join the undead, for some reason (we’re looking at you, Bella Swan). We have the classic vampire-werewolf rivalry, with a couple new jabs and comebacks (“We don’t smell our own crotches; we smell each other’s crotches!” the werewolves protest, emphatically). The flatmates also request that virgins be brought to them as their meal, but explain that “we like to eat virgins just because it sounds cool.” The film pushes farther, ridiculing modern technology, male aggression, Christianity and adult living situations. We forget that the camera crew is human until Vladislav points it out during an undead-only party, saying, “You will not eat the camera guy,” then, “Maybe one camera guy.” The film is Conchords humor at its best, and then some.
The kitschy documentary subtitles, Quentin Tarantino-esque amount of blood and the characters’ own deadpan earnestness make for a wildly entertaining hour and a half. The cinematography follows horror movie conventions, down eerie hallways and dimly lit staircases, for mere moments before the scene reveals and we see that, for instance, what appeared like a hanging corpse is actually Vladislav flying on a vacuum cleaner.
Watch this movie. If you don’t watch any other movie this year, watch this. It’s side-splittingly funny. It’s satirical. It’s also just a really sweet movie; the characters are cool people. One of my favorite moments comes at the movie’s end, when Nick and Deacon share a rare moment of camaraderie. Deacon’s way of comforting Nick is by saying, “Sometimes you make the honest mistake of making a mask out of crackers and a duck eats your face,” followed by, “I hope that made you feel better.”
It really did.
“What We Do In The Shadows” is now playing at Amherst Cinema.