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’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.