Now that we as a culture have seemingly settled on zombies as our primary monster metaphor, the somewhat ignored genre of vampire movies is busy getting weird. And the weirdness is a wonderful thing to behold. Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive looked at vampirism as a representation of ennui. Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night used it as a symbol of feminine empowerment. And now we have What We Do in the Shadows, a New Zealand mockumentary about four vampires renting a flat in Wellington together, and it uses the lens of vampirism to… well, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to mean. But it sure is funny.
Cowritten by, costarring, and codirected by Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords’s Jemaine Clement, Shadows combines the banality of reality television (“I tended to torture when I was in a bad place,” Clement’s Vladislav deadpans to the camera) with pretty much every vampire trope from the last century of film. Some of the humor is smart, and some of it is pleasantly moronic. (Waititi’s naive, innocent vampire, Viago, runs around the house at dusk in the first moments of the film shouting in his bad Transylvanian accent, “Vake up! Vake up, everyone! Avaken! Avakey-vakey!”)
Though Shadows suffers from some aimlessness in its latter half, it’s overall a pleasant revisitation of the mockumentary tropes perfected by Christopher Guest. The special effects are surprisingly good for a low-budget New Zealand feature, with characters flying around, turning into bats, and struggling to slurp blood as it gushes forth from an accidentally damaged aorta. This is funny stuff; you can’t wring these kinds of laughs out of a goddamned zombie.