Movie Review – What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

How every Vampire the Masquerade game ends up.

Initially, this film slipped past my radar, as I’ve seen many contenders tackling the mockumentary genre, aspiring to be like some of the greats within the genre.  However, what I also missed was that it was from the creators of Flight of the Conchords, and that is by all means a favorite of mine.  Instead, we follow a group of vampires living within an eerie old flat in Wellington.  Each of them contends with their own problems, usually initiating more squabbles in the process.  But, the petty drama of long time roommates in a world they don’t understand is all part of the fun.  So, what can these flatmates teach us ignorant mortals?  Read on and find out!

At its core, this film is a look into a somewhat dated form of entertainment, the “Real World” style documentary reality show.  However, this one views it through an ironic and self-mocking lens.  However, the tenants of this humble Wellington abode are not your ordinary residents, they’re vampires!  As we learn early on, these flatmates have lived for countless ages… especially in the case of 8000 year old Petyr.  They have witnessed a world change far faster than they could keep up with.  In fact, they still keep many of the quirks from a time long gone with them.  Vladislav sees little wrong with a little bloodshed of your enemies to pass the time, while Viago still acts like the 18th/19th century Dandy he was even back then!

Despite having a human servant (familiar) and a human cameraman, they keep their lives secret from the fearful world around them.  On top of that, each character contends with some sort of personal issue; Vladislav the blood-hungry warlord fears an encounter with a horrific being known only as “The Beast” once more, Viago is sad over an old love who has long since moved on, and Deacon deals with the restlessness of Jackie the human servant; as she was promised vampirism for a long time.  Plus, Deacon has an attitude problem in general as the self-proclaimed “bad boy” of the group.  The fourth vampire, a Nosferatu-like ancient named Petyr, is little more than a reclusive basement dweller.  In a sense, this documentary proves that vampires aren’t just mere blood craving monsters (except the flatmate Petyr, who looks like Count Orlok).  In fact, they’re just very different people dealing with their own strange problems, even in undeath.

While these undead roomies deal with tons of issues already, things begin to dip further south when Jackie tries to bring Nick (her ex-boyfriend) over to the flat as the vamps’ latest victim of the night.  Needless to say, his current girlfriend doesn’t make it very has as he shambles in half-alive fright from the ghoulish estate… only for Petyr to attack him and give him vampirism!  Two months later, he forces his way into the flat after Petyr forced him into becoming a vampire.  The others quickly become flustered under his new ideals and contemporary societal views.  This leads to antagonism of werewolves, Nick saying he’s like “Edward from Twilight” to his friends, and even inviting Stu (one of his friends) to the flat.  After Nick’s spilling the beans leads to a vampire slayer and Petyr killing each other, Nick is exiled while the remaining three prepare for a gathering of the undead with little time to mourn.  And because of the commotion, cops arrive to investigate the bedlam.  Luckily, Deacon’s (faltering) hypnotic talents deflect the officers from any evidence; incriminating, revealing or otherwise.  Thus, we as the audience know the stakes (pun intended) that vampires must face to keep up their strange lifestyle.  That said, they still like Stu and his incredible powers with computers.  After all, he helped connect them to the internet!

Meanwhile, the flatmates contend with their internal issues that they try desperately to resolve; Viago’s lost love, Vladislav’s fears of The Beast (whose at the gathering no less), Deacon’s familiar growing more restless.  As the gathering arrives, Vladislav feigns illness as he doesn’t take care of himself.  The Masquerade Ball is a hilarious mish-mosh of World of Darkness LARPer steroetypes and other such vamp cliches.  (Note: I enjoy World of Darkness, myself.)  It even prompts one of the characters to wonder how far vampires have fallen.  The vamps themselves realize they’ve been channeling The Lost Boys on several occasions!  And so, the others go to discover that Nick is there too, alongside Stu (whose not undead) and Jackie… who got her wish thanks to Nick!  As you’d expect, this stirs up drama between the group as the undead become weary of Stu’s presence.  Eventually, Vladislav sucks it up (haha) and crashes the party… to reveal THE BEAST is actually an ex-girlfriend he hasn’t gotten over.  Other much bickering and some party brawling (vampire style); the flatmates, Nick and Stu storm their way out.

As they make their way back, with more bickering along the way, they encounter the werewolves again and said werewolves want little to do with them after putting up with bullying and harassment.  Unfortunately, it’s a full moon and they had enough!  They wolf out and unleash hell on their tormentors, taking out the camera man and Stu in the process.  While the vamps do their best to cope with the loss of camera guy and Stu, Nick tries to make amends for his terrible job as both a vampire and a flatmate.  Before long, it’s revealed that Stu wasn’t dead but merely joined up with the werewolves!  And with his help, he wants to bridge any trouble between the living dead and his new fluffy friends.  Meanwhile, Vlad feels more confident after dealing with his ex and goes back to his violent ways, Viago gets back together with his old flame, and Deacon remains content with his saltiness.  The flat as a whole finally finds ways to feel a part of the world they’ve been so distant from for so long, finding new ways to embrace the 21st century.

What makes this film is a nice mixture of horror schlock, slice of life dry humor and the world around the flatmates.  Culminating together, it’s a well paced and pretty mellow comedy.  And that’s strange, considering its subject matter about vampires finding new ways to kill people and whatnot.  The jokes have great timing that feels natural to the world and never stretch themselves too thin.  Some of them fit in with otherwise somber or unsettling moods too; such as the disgusting dinner party or the loss of Petyr.  The hypnosis scene alone is morbidly hilarious and embodies the kind of humor this film is all about; dry and real with an enjoyable injection of the macabre to spice things up.

Visually, this film takes advantage of the documentary style and goes beyond what was required.  The flat looks dreary and dull, almost symbolic of how out of touch the characters in the flat are.  And beyond that, it has a certain menacing charm to it that invites the audience to see more, like the home of the Addams Family or the Cryptkeeper.  And while not a straight horror movie, some of the other visuals would have been right at home within one.  The werewolves’ retaliation is a panicked and dimly lit scene where only bits of the chaos are seen.  The Masquerade ball opens with the judging stares of ghoulish and morbid creatures (before settling down into the mundane party that we were set up to expect.)  Beyond some tasteful use of creepy imagery, the effects themselves weren’t bad for an intentionally campy b-picture.  While the bloody dinner showed very little at first (intentionally, because of hypnosis), we saw quite the bloodbath afterwards.

But, what made the film was the likable and eccentric characters.  Sure, they’re vampires; wicked beings of the night that prey on people like us.   However, their stubbornness to update and their own strange personal issues makes them oddly charming.  And through their lamentations and frustrations (especially with Viago), their plights become something one can sympathize with.  While they could have just gone with the fun adventures of a bunch of monsters who kill people, the creators went with more than that.  The turmoil that happens in the flat doesn’t just heighten the humor (even though much of it is played for laughs), it connects everyone with the characters more.  Sure, what the vampires to do in order to pass time looks hilarious to us, but it’s their means of keeping themselves occupied in a stifling and quite boring world (for them at least.)

All in all, this is a great movie for fans of mockumentary comedies, the horror genre or just anyone looking for a dry comedy with touches of darkness here and there.  It has a fun cast, a great atmosphere, a charming story and was truly made in the hands of horror fans itself.  While the humor might not be for everyone, this film is certainly worth at least one go.  And best of all, it teaches us that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves… even though I can assume most of us out there aren’t vampires.  But hey, even vampires deserve a hardly chuckle after contending with such long and tiring un-lives.  What We Do in the Shadows gets 9 satisfying drinks of blood out of 10!  Remember, real vampires aren’t Twilight!



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