The Austin Chronicle

What We Do in the Shadows

Rated R, 86 min. Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Rhys Darby, Jackie van Beek, Elena Stejko, Jason Hoyte.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 27, 2015

What’s worse than having a flatmate who hasn’t done the dishes in five years? How about if they’re covered in blood? Both the dishes and the flatmate, I mean. That’s just one of the problems facing a quartet of Wellington, New Zealand-based roomies who also happen to be vampires in this pointed send-up of Twilight tropes and undead issues. Think The Young Ones meets Flight of the Conchords by way of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire and you’re almost there. Co-director, writer, and lead Clement was, famously, one of the creators and stars of Conchords, and here he brings a similar, faux-naif comic sensibility to the semi-moribund vampire genre. Set up as a fake documentary (by something called the New Zealand Documentary Board), an all-but-unseen film crew records the nightly routines of a group of vampire flatmates: medieval-torture-loving Vladislav (Clement), aka “Vlad the Poker”; former 18th century dandy Viago (Waititi); borderline-feral wild child Deacon (Brugh); and, down in the basement, 8,000-year-old Max Schreck lookalike Petyr (Fransham). A newly turned but not yet fully accepted vampire named Nick (Gonzalez-Macer) and his nerd-pal Stu (Rutherford) round out an ensemble of losers through the ages – as evidenced by their inability to get into nightclubs “because vampires have to be invited inside.”

A gently parodic tone prevails throughout what is ultimately a pretty sweet take on bloodsuckers, even as Deacon and Nick flap their way through a “bat fight” (exactly what it sounds like) and the vamps face off against a pack of similarly esteem-challenged werewolves led by Conchords manager Rhys Darby.

Clement is suitably magnetic as the would-be Lothario Vlad, but it’s Waititi, as possibly filmdom’s most courteous vampiric host to date, who steals the show. His backstory, which involves an ill-fated affaire de coeur, is genuinely, improbably moving, and as for his eternally thwarted attempts to keep the house presentable, well, let’s just say, “You’ve got red on you.”

While it’s hardly a genre mile-, er, tombstone, What We Do in the Shadows is cleverly executed throughout – plenty of old-school wire-work allows these children of the night to go airborne – and occasionally inspired in its affectionate silliness. And at a quick 86 minutes, it’s also the perfect double-bill with another recent Kiwi genre parody: the ghostly Housebound.

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