Directors and longtime collaborators Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement shot 125 hours of footage, most of it improvisation for a 150-page script and took one year to edit it down to 90 minutes. This film found me during an obsessive Taika Waititi phase that I went through after watching Thor: Ragnarok, and comedy for me, has never been the same.
What We Do in the Shadows (WWDITS) is a mockumentary that follows vampires living together in a flat in Wellington, NZ, their hardships and struggles adjusting to the city life and complexities they go through after turning a young party boy into a vampire. The film was released during a time when vampire romances and drama were the most popular thing around the world and traces of Edward Cullen and the Salvatore brothers were either leaving roars of laughter or tears of singledom. WWDITS showed me something I didn't know I wanted to see, the similarities between us – mortals, and them – "shiny creatures with translucent skin".
The film opens with Viago inviting his flatmates for a meeting in the dining room to discuss flat responsibilities. Peter, the oldest, who lives in the basement with the skeletons of his victims, does not attend the meeting but the rest do. The other two flatmates are Deacon, the youngest bad boy vampire, who loves to knit and hates doing the dishes, and Vladislav, a sex-crazed immortal with a torture chamber and an ex-lover he despises. After this, comes a scene that sets the film's tone. The film doesn't have fall-off-your-couch-laughing sequences, neither does it play on the internal jokes. It shows us what the vampires are talking about, blatantly. The comedy is in your face and quite literal and absolutely clever. If they want to show you blood-stained dishes unwashed by one of the vampire flatmates for five years, they show it with no space to imagine. This is where the comedy builds. This film is a horror-comedy that actually shows the elements that are otherwise left to the viewer's imagination. The directors have portrayed the bizarre brilliantly, making the private public. You will see blood, murder and bites, but you will also see the humane side of these non-human creatures.
The vampire tropes used in the film are old and, nothing new has been introduced, giving its makers a chance to play around the stereotypes and mock them. Vampires have been mocked before and mocked well, but they have garnered laughter based on loud dramatisations of absurd events and badly acted performances. WWDITS attempts to generate comedy through scenes where the vampires are cleaning, prepping for a night out, and bargaining with each other about how many vampires can be eaten.
One of the best scenes in the film comes in the middle when Viago's date night is turned upside down after a hit and miss. He places newspapers on the floor and the couch around his date, promising her a good time, and neatly ties a handkerchief around his neck before plunging his teeth into his dinner. However, he hits the wrong artery in the process, creating a "bloody" mess, literally and figuratively. The acting takes the scene up a notch. The powerlessness of a dangerous creature shouting for help in a situation where he should be the expert is quite a sight to see. The vampires here are flawed, they try to take advantage of their powers but hardly ever succeed.
What works in the film is the stark difference in personalities amongst the otherwise similar creatures. Their wishes and hopes are simple, they all want to see what a sunrise looks like, find their silk scarves which they lost in the 1920s, and send "there's a crucifix behind you" texts on the phone. WWDITS is a story of familiar young adults who dislike their flatmates first and build a family with them later, with an added thirst for blood.