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SXSW Review: Vampires Get Real in Hilarious Mock Doc 'What We Do In the Shadows'

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood March 12, 2014 at 1:50PM

It’s hard out there for a vampire. Sunlight’s a (literal) pain, dining on human blood can get messy, and primping for a night out on the town is tricky when you can’t see your own reflection in a mirror. Aside from these supernatural hang-ups, Taikia Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s rollicking mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” shows us that bloodsuckers have more banal problems, too -- like getting along with roommates.
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Taika Waititi in 'What We Do in the Shadows'
Taika Waititi in 'What We Do in the Shadows'

It’s hard out there for a vampire. Sunlight’s a (literal) pain, dining on human blood can get messy, and primping for a night out on the town is tricky when you can’t see your own reflection in a mirror. Aside from these supernatural hang-ups,  Taikia Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s rollicking mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” shows us that bloodsuckers have more banal problems, too -- like getting along with roommates.

There are some generational differences, to begin with. Viago (Waititi) is 379 years old, and the resident neat freak of the house he shares with 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the glam but noisy 862-year-old Vladislav (Clement), who’s into kinky sex slavery, and the 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham), who’s the Nosferatu of the group. They all reside in Wellington, New Zealand, which perhaps isn’t the first location that would jump to mind for “The Real World: Vampire Edition,” but whatever. (Frequent collaborators Waititi (“Boy”) and Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) are both Kiwis.)

What We Do In the Shadows

What’s rather brilliant about this little 86-minute film is how deftly the funny co-directors are able to nail and skewer reality television. The thing about reality TV personalities is they’re very, very aware of getting attention. But they also have to share the screen with other attention-needy folk who might -- drunken gasp -- steal their thunder.

This is what happens when human buddy Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) accidentally gets turned one night, and becomes one of the more obnoxious vampires to grace the Wellington social scene. He brags about being undead, he gets into brawls, he bares his fangs just to show off, all of which puts the group at risk of being targeted by vampire hunters. Naturally this rift is documented with inelegant handheld camera work that’s become the staple of reality TV, and with the other vampires stumbling into frame, whining with self-importance about how the dynamic of the group is off. Nick’s just a really uncool newbie, you know?

Meanwhile, there’s a rival werewolf gang stalking the streets of Wellington. While the vampires are hilarious, it may be these wolf men who steal the show. Werewolves have their own issues to deal with. For one, if they don’t watch that temper, they’ll morph into hairy, hulking beasts. When Viago, Vladislav and the whole vampire posse start heckling the werewolves one night, the werewolves have to repeat a mantra to keep from losing their cool: “We're werewolves, not swearwolves.”

All in all, it’s a trip to watch what happens when these Draculas and shapeshifters stop being polite, and start getting real.

"What We Do In the Shadows" screens at SXSW on March 12 and 13.

This article is related to: Festivals, SXSW, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Taika Waititi, Taika Waititi, Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Reviews, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.