What We Do in the Shadows is bloody awesome. It tackles a movie genre lacking lifeblood — the vampire saga — and spins it into a wonderful paradox, a surrealist spoof that puts the “dead” in “deadpan.” Imagine a Christopher Guest mockumentary that’s quite gory, with humor full of foreboding and malevolent twists, and you’re in the neighborhood.
The co-directors/co-writers/co-stars are Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Clement’s sidesplitting HBO series Flight of the Conchords concerned unsuccessful Kiwi musicians dumbfounded by New York City. Here he and Waititi — a former Oscar nominee for best live short — play bloodsucking misfits every bit as culturally naive in suburban New Zealand.
Having moved from Transylvanian castles, they now occupy a squalid Wellington mansion like house-sharing students. The kitchen is overflowing with bloodstained cups and dishes. Getting a wardrobe together for a midnight stroll is hard when mirrors don’t reflect you. Living in the sun-kissed south Pacific generally stinks. Vampires hate sunlight, remember? And the local werewolves are sheer antagonism.
Beset by this fish-out-of-coffin lifestyle are 862-year-old Vladislav (Clement), an insufferable cadaver Casanova trying for “dead but delicious” fashions; silent Petyr (Ben Fransham), a decrepit, rat-toothed Nosferatu-style cellar dweller, and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the immature, punk exhibitionist of the clique at age 183. They have dysfunctional relationships with each other and largely ignore Viago (Waititi), a winsome dandy in Victorian puffy shirts who acts as the unappreciated parent of the house.
The humans in town are marginally more insane than the undead newcomers. Deacon promises eternal vampire life to weirdo groupie chick Jackie (Jackie van Beek) in exchange for endless servitude. Despite being married, the long-suffering minion cleans up constantly after four guys who have to kill on a weekly basis.
The cast is outstanding, Clement creating a character who’s insufferable and uproarious, and Waititi an endlessly amusing worryguts. There’s also impressive technical finesse in the way gleefully insane gags arise from trick visuals and sound effects.
In one eye-popping sequence a newcomer to the vampire ranks, Twilight fan Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) doesn’t follow simple undead horse sense. He skips the usual diet of blood for some French fries, and the film features the most exaggerated shots of projectile vomit since The Exorcist. If there are any more flat-out crazed films than this in 2015, we’re in for a brilliantly bumpy ride.
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh.
Writers-directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi.
A Paladin Films release. Running time: 86 minutes. Vulgar language, comedic violence, gore, drug references, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Gateway.