The shaggy documentary vibe is an intentional feel for What We Do in the Shadows, but part of me wonders if a more rigid documentary style might have been more fitting for a vampire film. A more formal documentary approach might have also driven a more snappy and polished pacing to the film, that sometimes lets a gag or scene run a bit too long as the casts improvising chops aren’t always entirely the sharpest. This house in New Zealand houses a quartet of vampires who add up to many millennia of years of wealth and experience, but they are stuck in this shitty empty house? It doesn’t seem right. I think, sadly, this is a byproduct of the film’s limited budget rearing its head, but at least they invested said budget elsewhere to maximum effect.
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement wrote, direct and star in the film and I think this ended up being problematic for a couple of reasons. First, Taika Waititi is not a leading man, and even though he is playing a dofus he just isn’t all that compelling as the de facto lead. The inverse of this is that Clement seems oddly absent and I have to imagine this is because he is doing work behind the camera. Clement is the biggest and best star in the film and it could have used more of him. I cared so much more for Stu than Waititi’s Viago and Stu literally says next to nothing most of the film.
Thankfully, Jonathan Brugh is great as Deacon and I liked just about everything he had to offer. The way he carries himself, a little wild and a little cocky, is a great contrast to Viago’s wet blanket. Cori Gonzalez-Macuer is also fairly entertaining as a fresh faced vampire, but I couldn’t stay on board with his shtick which only had a couple of gears. Again, I prefer Stu.
I have been a bit negative, but the film is well worth a watch and plenty funny. Viago even gets a couple great gags. I mentioned Brugh’s great performance, but I wish we got even more of him and the excellent Ben Fransham who plays the ancient Petyr. Petyr is also under utilized, but everything we get with him is great. The make-up on Petyr is legitimately creepy and I was surprised at the amount of tension they were able to bring to the film through him. Rhys Darby steals the show as the pack master of a werewolf clan. The vampire group encounters these werewolves a few times and Darby’s charisma pours through the screen per usual. There is never enough Darby.
The filmmaking might be the most impressive element of the film, as it is really inventive and integrates some effects seamlessly that takes the film to another level. The levitation, the make up, some clever editing and a couple of in-camera moves really stand out on the technical side. The film is broken up into four separate acts and each has a set piece or two that often stand out above the improv heavy bits. The one set piece I was most impressed with a chase sequence all over the house as the vampires try to catch a human. The cutting is crazy and they cram a ton of laughs and scares into the frantic segment.
What We Do in the Shadows might have some room for improvement, but this is still a funny entry into the mockumentary genre. Some solid filmmaking constantly impresses on the film’s small budget, but we don’t get enough from the cast we want to see more of. The bits you get from the vampires we like are worth checking out though, I just think the film could have been put together a bit better.