So overused it has become within the horror genre that found footage is now almost an unconscious parody of itself, though lacking the one crucial element without which parody cannot function: a sense of humour. With almost the sole exception of the excellent self-mocking Trolljegeren, the badly framed casts of most found footage films remain miserably po-faced, which is why it is such a relief that despite almost a collective millennium in the tomb the flatmates who choose to reveal What We Do In The Shadows are a step ahead of their peers by doing so in the form of a mockumentary.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement who previously formed comedy duo The Humourbeasts and collaborated together on Eagle vs Shark and Flight of the Conchords, they play two of the four vampires who share a house in the suburbs of Wellington, New Zealand, 379 year old Viago who as principal narrator tries to coax the others to cooperate and take on their share of the housekeeping duties and 862 year old Vladislav, a creature of more opulent tastes who hosts blood orgies in his bedroom and spends his nights poking victims in his torture dungeon.
At 183 years old, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the youngest and consequently the most unruly; “There are bloody dishes all over the place,” Vladislav protests, “I’m so embarrassed when I bring people over,” prompting Deacon to point out the obvious: “You bring them over to kill them.” A decayed and emaciated predator of the same breed as Count Orlok and Kurt Barlow, Petyr (Ben Fransham) largely keeps to himself in his understairs crypt, though with 8,000 years experience his hunting skills remain formidable.
Blood and darkness are not the only curses of vampirism as long life brings with it the struggle to adapt to new ages, the burden of change as experienced by Lestat de Lioncourt and Louis de Pointe du Lac, by Adam and Eve of Only Lovers Left Alive, by those denizens of the Sunnydale Hellmouth unable to move past the fashions of their expiry date.
When Petyr makes new fledgling Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), his excitement about his newly nocturnal status is at odds with the more conservative members of their secret society, his turning a thorn in the side of Viago’s long suffering familiar Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) who has waited over four years to be sired.
At only 85 minutes, the film is the perfect length to introduce the eccentric characters and their foibles without overstaying its welcome; situations are established and resolved without artificially creating drama or labouring the humour which flows naturally from the performers and the increasingly absurd predicaments they find themselves in, an uncomfortable Skype call to a former familiar now decades overdue the dark gift, a lycanthrope anger management support group (“We’re werewolves, not swear wolves,” Rhys Darby’s alpha Anton reminds his pack repeatedly) culminating in the Unholy Masquerade, an annual celebration held at the Cathedral of Despair, a venue known for the rest of the year as the Victoria Bowling Club.
Resembling nothing so much as the work of Christopher Guest and his ensemble whose delightful creations include Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, the comedy focuses on the performances of a talented cast who are comfortable in their roles, and while the dial may never quite be turned up to eleven it is more than sufficient to kill time behind tightly closed curtains waiting for nightfall.
What We Do In The Shadows is now on general release