'What We Do in the Shadows' Is Pretty Bloody Good
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s cult favorite film just got some new lifeblood.
Photo by FX Networks
We’ve all seen vampires in movies and television: They’re sexy, they glitter, they want to drink our blood, though the good ones are often “vegetarian,” (which means eating animals rather than humans.) Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 film What We Do in the Shadows (WWDITS), was the opposite of this. The niche film followed a small, socially awkward vampire coven living as flatmates in New Zealand, and served as both a mockumentary—complete with shaky cam and confessionals—and a satire of the many, many vampire shows and films that had been released in the wake of Twilight. It was a low budget romp, only grossing $7 million in the box office and playing in a smattering of US theaters. But Clement’s fame as one half of Flight of the Conchords and Waititi’s work on Thor: Ragnorak more recently brought the cult favorite film to larger audiences. And the new ten episode series of the same name—which premiered on FX on March 27—takes that original core idea, but updates it with new characters.
Unlike most vampires in pop culture, the bloodsuckers in WWDITS aren’t sexy (though I suppose that’s debatable), rich, or struggling to control their impulses in order to have sexual relationships with humans. They’re deeply weird, like watching an episode of MTV’s Real World where everyone is in the wrong century but won’t accept it. The FX series follows vampires Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry) and their bumbling “familiar” a.k.a. servant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén). There’s also an “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), who drains his victims not of their blood but of their energy through boring office chit chat, making him a vampire that’s actually just a real person we all know and probably work with.
WWDITS plays on the inherently hilarious juxtapositioning of vampires and the banalities of everyday modern life. Waititi and Clement serve as executive producers, and in their classic dry wit, every joke is somewhere between a groan and choking laughter. There’s a bit where no one can sign for a package delivery, because the touchscreen won’t read any of their fingers. Nandor the Relentless—so named because he “never relents”—goes to purchase decorative items for the awakening of Baron Afanas, an ancient, revered, flesh-bag looking vampire. At the drugstore, Nandor repeatedly calls crepe paper “creepy paper,” and therefore insists on buying it. They can’t find a nice looking room to awake Afanas, and must settle on the attic that has an abandoned stairmaster in the corner.
Afanas awakens to tell the vampires he expects they already rule the land. When Afanas returns to his casket, the vampires fret over whether their overlord asked them to take over the entire world, just North America, or Staten Island specifically. (This is also where viewers learn that they all live in Staten Island, which is objectively funny). To rollout their plans of achieving “total domination” they end up at the Staten Island City Council, and get held up by local court proceedings. When Laszlo learns that the leader of City Council complains of a raccoon problem, he decides to solve it for her by killing all of them and leaving them in a heap on her doorstop. This, understandably, does not go well.
WWDITS also provokes laughter from its (un)deadpan treatment of old vampire tropes. The vampires prefer to consume virgins, leading Guillermo to scout out a club of LARPers. (Beanie Feldstein, who co-starred in Lady Bird, is a pitch perfect choice for one of the only women in the LARPing group.) In the first episode, Nandor decides to cover himself in glitter. In the third episode, the vampires confront a pack of werewolves. A Native American werewolf explains that he happens to be Native American, and it isn’t why he’s a werewolf (a pretty direct clapback at Twilight and its racist subtexts). It’s also a reminder that popular culture is still recovering from the onslaught of vampire media from the early 2000s.
Against all odds, the formula just really works. Maybe it shouldn’t be that shocking, as it’s associated with a director like Waititi who has become famous for bringing together elements that sound insane on paper. Let’s think about Thor: Ragnorak—evil Cate Blanchett with horn hair, Jeff Goldblum on a pleasure craft, a man made of rocks (“just some rock paper scissors humor for you!”), lots of electrocution, dire wolves, and “safe passage through The Anus.” WWDITS is that level of esoteric and deadpan. The show is as funny as the film—perhaps even funnier because television has a precedent for successful mockumentaries. Think about The Office, which ran for nine seasons and spawned countless other popular mockumentary style shows in its wake. WWDITS is plied with the same kind of one liners that are destined to be quoted among fans. And it deserves just that kind of immortal following.
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