Nobody could say that What We Do In the Shadows — the latest film from Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) — isn’t funny. The premise alone is hilarious: what would happen if a group of vampires decided to share a house in New Zealand? And there are brilliant one-liners (particularly the analogy between virgins and sandwiches).
But when is a film just a series of sitcom set pieces?
The film presents the vampires as a group displaced in time. Instead of keeping up with the mores and technological progress, they’ve remained somewhat fixed in their original time period. To step into their house means to step back in time where they wake up at 6pm, hope that the sun has already gone down, and then get on with a night of trying to find necks to bite. After about ten minutes, the premise stops being cute and the audience waits for something to sink their teeth into.
It never comes. Instead, we get a few overlapping tales. What happens when they convert a contemporary adult male into a vampire? Of course, he wants to boast about how he’s Twilight, &c., &c., &c. This also means that the vampires can be introduced to the Internet — where they’re able to look up virgins on Google. But the new vampire causes tension within the existing group, ending with calamity. Then there’s the story of a centuries-long fued between one of the vampires and an entity known as ‘The Beast’. And then there’s another story about the vampires’ conflict with a local pack of werewolves.
This would have worked well as a six episode television series. As a movie, it’s tedious and weak. It wanders aimlessly, and there is insufficient structure to keep the story clicking along. What We Do in the Shadows is less This Is Spinal Tap and more Bruno.
With a stronger story, this could have been a highlight film for the year.