“Yeah some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’”
The Flight of the Concords had plenty of international success as touring comedians for years, but I think it’s safe it say that for mainstream audiences, they seemingly burst out of nowhere with their hilarious HBO sitcom. After two short seasons across three years, they kind of disappeared. Sure, Jemaine Clement pops up semi regularly in smallish and indie movies, and Brett McKenzie won an Oscar writing songs for The Muppets reboot. But I’m sure both could have waltzed into high budget, high profile careers if that’s what they had wanted. Instead, we get things like Clement’s first major writing credit since the Concords, we get What We Do in the Shadows.
Filmed in documentary style, a film crew follows a small group of vampires living in Wellington, New Zealand. There’s the medieval Vladislav (Clement), the fussy dandy Viago (Clement’s co-writer and director, Taika Waititi), and young (only a couple hundred of years old) upstart Deacon (Jonny Brugh). Along with the ancient, Nosferatu like Petyr (Ben Fransham), they share a small flat and contend with small housemate issues. Like, who should do the dishes, and why it’s only polite to lay down newspaper on the nice couch before slaughtering a victim. The core trio also deals with the hassles of being a vampire. For instance, wanting a drink, but only being allowed into a nightclub if they’re invited.
Also along for the ride is Jackie (Jackie Van Beek). She’s mortal now, but has made a deal with the vampires that they will make her one of them, as long as she works as their servant and keeps supplying them with fresh prey. Which she nonchalantly does by luring in people who might have been mean to her at school, or casually getting revenge for other petty slights she’s suffered over the years.
In the tradition of Christopher Guest classics like Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, the best and funniest moments of What We Do in the Shadows come out of its straight faced seriousness. None of these characters know they’re weird, none of them think they’re being funny. The characters and their lives are ridiculously goofy and totally absurd, but each actor commits so seriously, that it only become more ridiculous, more absurd and totally hilarious.
Flight of the Concords pushed the naive, quaint, sweetness of New Zealand to crazy limits, surrounding its characters with the harsh, ruthlessness of New York City. What We Do in the Shadows surrounds it’s naive, quaint New Zealand sweetness with more naive, quaint New Zealand sweetness. Which only makes the violence and brutality of vampire life all the more funny.
When a new vampire desperately tires to be accepted by the more experienced vampires, and is instead passed over for his mortal friend who knows karate and is good with computers, the petty, high school clique style storyline, added to the mundanity of share house living and general malaise, brings everything together as a fully formed story. This isn’t just some funny friends, piss farting around and improvising for a camera. What We Do in the Shadows is, is the kind of movie that has so much going on at a fully formed character level, it just effortlessly looks like piss farting around.