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“Just Leave Me to Do My Dark Bidding on the Internet”: How the Undead Live at Home in What We Do in the Shadows

by Ethan Tussey

by Ella Tucan for IN MEDIA RES

If there is any genre more overworked and underwhelming than the mockumentary, it has to be the vampire movie. So why does What We Do in the Shadows, the buoyant bloodsucker comedy co-directed by New Zealand’s Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement make me smile from beginning to end? Chronicling the day-to-day household bickering of a quartet of vampires, the film seems like a sketch idea stretched out to feature length. Witty, weird, and wickedly funny, What We Do is, in all respects, better than it should be. The film brilliantly juxtaposes the mundane and the supernatural and abounds in energetic, expertly-timed gags. It hits all of the clichés for both genres, but cleverly twists familiar tropes into something altogether new. The filmmakers’ masterstroke is finding the humor in the characters’ humanity instead of their monstrosity and sympathetically presenting the small humiliations and inconveniences of everyday existence in a way that, although unreservedly silly, becomes strangely touching and relatable even for mere mortals. The tone is set from the opening scenes, when Viago, an18th century dandy who has retained his delicate manners even in the afterlife, tries to rouse his roomies with “Vakey, vakey,” or arranges a flatmate meeting in which chores are divided fairly. As with any communal living situation, however, not everyone pulls their weight. Young rebel Deacon—he’s not even 200 years old—has left five years’ worth of bloody dishes in the sink, and the nearly-millennium old Nosferatu-like Petyr can’t be bothered to clean up the stray spinal columns that litter his basement crypt. Medieval count Vladislav wants to know if dragging a corpse down the hallway counts as dusting. What We Do has got bite, but the subtle satire is strengthened by its sincere exploration of the difficulties and value of friendship, even when, in the absence of mirror reflections, that means relying on each other to discern what pants go with what jacket. “This is what happens when you’re a vampire,” one character consoles another. “You have to watch everyone die.” As with Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, we might learn something from the undead about life, love, and loss. The only difference is this seemingly straightfaced meditation on aging and death quickly becomes a discussion of perils like “making the simple mistake of fashioning a mask out of crackers, and being attacked by ducks, geese, swallows.”

“Just Leave Me to Do My Dark Bidding on the Internet”: How the Undead Live at Home in What We Do in the Shadows

by Ethan Tussey

by Ella Tucan for IN MEDIA RES

If there is any genre more overworked and underwhelming than the mockumentary, it has to be the vampire movie. So why does What We Do in the Shadows, the buoyant bloodsucker comedy co-directed by New Zealand’s Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement make me smile from beginning to end? Chronicling the day-to-day household bickering of a quartet of vampires, the film seems like a sketch idea stretched out to feature length. Witty, weird, and wickedly funny, What We Do is, in all respects, better than it should be. The film brilliantly juxtaposes the mundane and the supernatural and abounds in energetic, expertly-timed gags. It hits all of the clichés for both genres, but cleverly twists familiar tropes into something altogether new. The filmmakers’ masterstroke is finding the humor in the characters’ humanity instead of their monstrosity and sympathetically presenting the small humiliations and inconveniences of everyday existence in a way that, although unreservedly silly, becomes strangely touching and relatable even for mere mortals. The tone is set from the opening scenes, when Viago, an18th century dandy who has retained his delicate manners even in the afterlife, tries to rouse his roomies with “Vakey, vakey,” or arranges a flatmate meeting in which chores are divided fairly. As with any communal living situation, however, not everyone pulls their weight. Young rebel Deacon—he’s not even 200 years old—has left five years’ worth of bloody dishes in the sink, and the nearly-millennium old Nosferatu-like Petyr can’t be bothered to clean up the stray spinal columns that litter his basement crypt. Medieval count Vladislav wants to know if dragging a corpse down the hallway counts as dusting. What We Do has got bite, but the subtle satire is strengthened by its sincere exploration of the difficulties and value of friendship, even when, in the absence of mirror reflections, that means relying on each other to discern what pants go with what jacket. “This is what happens when you’re a vampire,” one character consoles another. “You have to watch everyone die.” As with Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, we might learn something from the undead about life, love, and loss. The only difference is this seemingly straightfaced meditation on aging and death quickly becomes a discussion of perils like “making the simple mistake of fashioning a mask out of crackers, and being attacked by ducks, geese, swallows.”

Horror Comedy and Vampires

Trailer for What We Do in the Shadows

from What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Creator: Madman Films
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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