Vampires! Powerful, ravenous and immune to the ravages of time! Rather unfortunately for Viago ( Taika Waititi) , Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) , and Petyr (Ben Fransham), the undead subjects of 2014’s mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows , vampires also seem to be immune to the Flynn Effect. Everyone around them is getting smarter decade by decade, but they remain in a perpetual state of vague befuddlement. The quartet share a house in Wellington as well as a daily struggle to deal with the baffling modern world.
But change is coming. Change in the form of the human known as Nick.
Or, as the vampires think of Nick, “dinner.” That’s what he would have been if Petyr had not, for reasons known only to himself, decided to transform Nick into a vampire.
Nick is at best an annoying addition to the community, being exceptionally deficient in common sense, even for a vampire. But Nick has a best friend named Stu and Stu, an oddly personable programmer, introduces the elderly vampires to such modern conveniences as colour televisions, digital cameras, and the internet.
More changes are coming: Nick’s glee in his new state, combined with the fact he hasn’t got the sense god gave a goose, means that the five vampires are now on a vampire-hunter’s radar. And if that were not bad enough, the annual rite known as the Unholy Masquerade is coming. This year, it will include a confrontation with that which is known only as THE BEAST!
You might ask “if there are about sixty vampires and such in Wellington, as the movie claims, and these vampires seem unable to feed without killing, and New Zealand as a whole only has about seventy or eighty murders and related crimes each year, does that mean that the creators of this film didn’t bother to do the math?” One way to evade this otherwise inescapable conclusion is to assume that “vampires seem to be pretty good at hypnotizing humans, so it could be that the murder rate is much higher than the humans suspect.”
Immortality may be at the root of some of the vampires’ problems with modernity; if you’ve grown up with cuneiform, it’s hard to figure out L33T. Petyr, for example, is older than cheese-making. It may also be significant that the vampires are by necessity cut off from the mainstream of society. Me, I suspect that most vampires come off as befuddled because sensible people are just better at avoiding the kind of situation that might lead to vampirization.
Vampires are also mendacious and manipulative, beguiling their human familiars with promises they have little intention of keeping. At least Viago has the decency to look embarrassed when he is confronted by an elderly familiar who wasted his entire life waiting to be turned.
This black comedy was a lot funnier than I had expected it to be, given that I hadn’t really liked Jermaine Clements’ previous television series, Flight of the Conchords. Although they are all monsters, the vampires are an oddly endearing lot. Viago is a bit of a mother hen, fussing over his flatmates and preventing them from doing dumb things like taking a daytime nap in front of an uncovered window.
That said, this is a black comedy. Don’t expect most of the humans who encounter the vampires to last long. If you take a sufficiently sardonic perspective on events, it is morbidly funny that a human-destined-for-dessert chatters on and on about the world trip she is planning, while her vampire dinner companion looks vaguely guilty.
I also liked the sound track, in particular whichever song it was that had the line “hanging around discotheques.”
I rented this as a DVD. Having returned it, I only now realize I did not check for special features. I can attest that it lacked subtitles, which was a bother. It’s not that the New Zealand accent is incomprehensible; in many ways it resembles English. It’s just that I am somewhat deaf and subtitles are a good way for me to watch a DVD with someone without one of us having to insert earplugs to reduce the sound level to tolerable.
What We Do in the Shadows has a website here.