What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about a group of vampires living together in a flat in New Zealand, written, directed and starring Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi. The flatmates represent your typical vampire archetypes, there's Viago (Waititi) a tragic vampire in love, Vladislav (Clement) a brutal torturer, Deacon a stylish 'cool' type and Petyr an ancient Nosferatu type. A dinner party gone awry results in another vampire being added to their group; Nick who is something of an irritating poseur but does at least have the benefit of his very helpful and very pink human friend, Stu.
The self-seriousness of vampires lends itself well to Flight of the Conchords style humour; with awkward, ineffectual men occupying roles usually reserved for the cool and confident. What are vampires if not the rock stars of the monster world? The commitment What We Do in the Shadows has to its vampire aesthetic is a pleasant surprise, for a budget under 1 million US dollars, the special effects and make up are much better than they could be, characters float around Lost Boys style and blood gets everywhere. It would easy for a film like this to go for cheap laughs from semi-deliberately bad effects, instead its much easier to buy into this world of vampires, making the shortcomings of Viago, Vladislav, Deacon etc within that world all the more pronounced. The best laughs come from the silliness of the characters than from any fresh, witty commentary on horror conventions. The unending politeness of Stu is up there with the best Conchords characters and while the understated comedy of What We Do in the Shadows isn't for everybody, those that do enjoy it will likely end up enjoying it a lot.
The film does have a problem common to most modern comedies, a structural weakness that comes from writers that are more skilled at writing jokes than telling stories. An upcoming masquerade ball is mentioned in the beginning (its the conceit behind the 'documentary' being made to begin with) and it does come into play at the climax but there's little sense of narrative momentum. The balance isn't quite right with some of the supporting characters either; the comedic potential of a normal housewife being one of the vampire's put-upon servant is never really fulfilled and the reveal of one much-hyped character doesn't really pay off. On the other side of the spectrum, every moment Rhys Darby (Murray, the manager of Flight of the Conchords) is on screen as the 'alpha male' of a pack of werewolves left my asking "why doesn't this film have more Rhys Darby?" I suppose it does have more Rhys Darby than most films, but still...
On the whole though, the comedy works and it makes good enough use of the mockumentary format to compare favourably to others of the genre. It seems likely that What We Do in the Shadows seems destined end up as a cult hit, appealing as it does to niche audiences: mockumentary fans, horror-comedy fans and Conchords fans. Though it will make for good Netflix viewing in a few months time, you could do worse this winter than showing some support for this small film as it goes up against a number of big-hitters.