What We Do in the Shadows (2014) [REVIEW] [SXSW ’14]

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Fucking New Zealanders, am I right? They really know how to nail the horror comedy, don’t they? Recently we’ve had Black Sheep, the SXSW world premiere of the fantastic Housebound, and the legendary Peter Jackson films Braindead and Bad Taste. For a country that doesn’t produce many horror films, it’s interesting to see how often they combine humor with horror and how they do so successfully. I had assumed that What We Do in the Shadows would be yet another horror-comedy that I would feel so-so about, as is usually my experience, but when I realized that the film didn’t attempt any sort of horrific elements, I just got to sit back and laugh like a maniac at the countless jokes that you don’t need to be a horror fan to appreciate.

A film crew in New Zealand is given special permission to document a secret society that the public doesn’t know about, mostly because these people are actually vampires. The crew goes on to document how being a vampire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as having a 3,000 year old Noseferatu-esque roommate who is constantly leaving spinal columns around his room or a Gary Oldman-esque vampire who never does the dishes can be pretty annoying. The roommates start having to deal with more conflicts as they have to deal with a newly turned vampire who clearly knows nothing of subtlety or why a vampire needs to keep their identity a secret. Normally after I introduce the conflict in the story, I will incorporate the classic “…and then hilarity ensues”, but in the case of What We Do in the Shadows, I genuinely mean it. It was fucking hilarious.

When filmmakers attempt to combine horror and comedy, the humor will sometimes only appeal to fans of the genre. How many horror comedies incorporate a character named “Voorhees” or “Krueger” as an incredibly insulting wink to the audience that just seems to say, “Hey guys, does THAT name sound familiar?” It’s not cute. Breaking the fourth wall can completely take you out of a movie, especially when you are attempting to cleverly reference one of the most well-known characters in the genre. The joy of What We Do in the Shadows is that it’s not so much mocking horror films so much as it is using characters whose traits are relatively well-known throughout all forms of media for centuries. People know what vampires are, they know they drink blood, they know they hate sunlight and crucifixes. Given these well-known restraints, the film could have simply been a platform to mock vampire films, but instead has incredibly talented comedic actors to sell the humor. Jemaine Clement might be the most well-known of the cast for being in Flight of the Conchords and having also starred in Eagle vs. Shark. Jemaine wasn’t the only one in Eagle vs. Shark, as Taika Waititi and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer also appear in the film. One of the best performances would have been Stuart Rutherford as Stu, the best friend of our newly turned vampire who all of the roommates develop for more of an affection for despite being Stu being a man of few words.

Although you don’t need to be a horror fan to enjoy What We Do in the Shadows, there are a few sequences that will appeal to genre aficionados more than your average viewer. There are Twilight references that don’t at all mock the film, there’s a hilarious rivalry between our vampires and a group of werewolves that they stumble across, and in one of my favorite bits of the whole movie, seeing a vampires reaction to an attempt at consuming something that isn’t blood might be a little much for the squeamish. The film is incredibly smart while also being very goofy, and the cast worked fantastically together. This film is so funny that you don’t want to let yourself laugh because you’ll know you’ll miss what might be your favorite quip. Far from being horror-comedy, What We Do in the Shadows extends to a further audience than genre fans and could possibly become This is Spinal Tap for horror fans. See this movie immediately.

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