Speaking of pop culture, New Zealand gets pegged as the country that gave the world The Lord of the Rings franchise. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s a truly beautiful country and being the birthplace of the greatest trilogy in film history certainly isn’t something to be upset about (kiss my ass, Star Wars). But high fantasy is far from the only contribution New Zealand has made to film and television. It’s also given us some really funny people. Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Brett MacKenzie, and Taika “God” Waititi are just a few of the masterminds that call New Zealand home. And if you’re not familiar with any of their work, it’s about time you caught up. Flight of the Concords, Short Poppies, Hunt for the Wilder People, and Thor: Ragnarok (okay, most people have seen this one) are just a few movies and shows these guys have been involved in. And I love every single one of them, but they pale in comparison to What We Do In the Shadows.
The Office, but with vampires. That’s a quick pitch for Shadows, and if it doesn’t at the very least pique your interest, than nothing will ever please you. Co-directed, written, and starring Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows is without question the funniest movie of the decade. Filmed as a mockumentary, it centers on a group of vampires living together in a flat in New Zealand. Each of the roommates stands in as a different take on vampires throughout film history. There’s Deacon, who at 150+ years old is the “young bad boy of the group” and a mush shirted avatar of all things from True Blood. Viago, the sweet natured, love-struck dandy played by Waititi with the style of Bela Lugosi. Vladislav, the hyper dramatic riff on Gary Oldman’s take on Dracula, played by Clement. And then there’s Petyr. The less you know about him the better. They lead an ideal life, luring victims into their home and taking the bus into Auckland to try to get themselves invited into clubs (they have to be invited because of the whole vampire thing). It’s only when Petyr drags the would be victim Nick into their undead ranks that their world comes crashing down around them. As the laid back, somewhat naive Nick drags the group kicking and screaming into the modern world.
The film finds equal amounts of hilarity in showing us these characters dealing with both the mundane and the supernatural. They’ll argue over who should do the dishes before floating in the air and hissing at each other. You’ll learn why vampires prefer the blood of virgins (because it sounds cooler) and see our boys shit talk a group of werewolves. And good god, man, the sight gags in this thing. There’s even a cat with Jemaine Clement’s face, damn it!
Shadows has become a legitimate cult classic in the years since its release back in 2014. Its popularity has grown so much that it got itself a spinoff of the same name on FX. At the time of this writing, the second episode has premiered, and it seems like a pretty solid adaption. While Deacon, Vladislav, and Viago are missed, but Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Energy Vampire Collin Robinson make for good replacements (with the IT Crowd’s Matt Berry being the clear standout as Laszlo). The setting is changed from New Zealand to Staten Island, which they have been ordered to conquer or die by the perpetually unrecognizable Doug Jones’ Baron Afanas. As the group have been far more concerned with making glitter portraits or other such activities than inflict their vampiric superiority.
It retains the aesthetic and feel of the film. Both the film and television show feature very low key, but impressive practical effects showing off the absurd abilities of our protagonists. Awkward floating, geysers of blood, and bat transformations can all be seen in the pilot episode of the show alone.
As amazing as the film is, I think TV is the medium most suited to Shadows, as there is simply more time to spend with these characters. Most of the humor in both the film and show comes from watching these ancient creatures struggle to comprehend modern social norms. One sequence from the pilot that left me cackling involved a particularly disastrous trip to the grocery store taken by Nandor. Another from the second showcases Laszlo gifting a pile of dead raccoons to an elderly city councilwoman in a misguided effort to seduce her. With television, there is far more time to showcase these diversions, and the story is far better for it.
Whether you’re watching the film, television show or both, there’s no going wrong with What We Do In The Shadows. The film can be streamed on Amazon Prime and the show airs Wednesday’s at 10:00 PM on FX. If you don’t laugh your ass off or are at the very least intrigued, feel free to track me down in person and yell at me.