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What We Do in the Shadows review: Kiwi vampires kill with a sense of humour

There are some lighter moments to be had when you are dead and living in Wellington, it seems.

The concept behind What We Do in the Shadows is slight: living a modern life isn't easy when you're undead. A fake documentary about a share house in Wellington, New Zealand, where the residents are all vampires, this  Kiwi film could easily offer no more than a sketch comedy segment's worth of humour, but it turns out to be a droll and humorously clever feature.

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The trials and tribulations of three flat mates who also happen to be vampires.

Reviewer rating


Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Title What We Do in the Shadows
Genre Comedy, Horror
Director Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Screenwriter Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Actors Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
OFLC rating M
Run Time
Year 2014
Language English

Vampire flatmates find modern society has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming share house conflicts.

Full synopsis

Credit goes to co-writers and co-directors Taika Waititi (creator of the terrific coming-of-age tale Boy) and Jemaine Clement (from comic duo Flight of the Conchords), who find ludicrous laughs in depicting the fantastical as merely matter-of-fact. One fussy vampire puts down newspaper before he bites a victim so as to avoid blood stains, while another turns into a bat and flies off when peeved.

Introduced at a "flat meeting", Viago (Waititi), Vlad (Clement) and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) are creatures from  bygone eras, still keen to feast on human blood – preferably a virgin's – but first having to allocate the domestic chores. "Vampires don't do dishes," declares an indignant Deacon, but soon enough he's scrubbing away.

When the trio walk the streets of Wellington at night they're unaware they look like dills, as if they are on their way to a New Romantic costume party. And the easygoing nature of New Zealanders allows them both to find victims and to strike up a friendship with newly turned vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) and his genial human best mate Stu (Stuart Rutherford), a database specialist who introduces the trio to digital technology.

The special effects are deliberately cheap, but the gags are often sharp, taking familiar elements of vampire myth and mocking them even as they're played out. When a special annual celebration comes around, The Unholy Masquerade, you realise it's taking place in the function room of a local bowls club. Thankfully punchlines are underplayed as opposed to being spotlighted.

The esteemed mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, such as Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, revealed the foibles of supposedly ordinary people. But What We Do in the Shadows is a satirical demystification that occasionally reaches the sublimely absurd, most notably in a series of encounters with a polite pack of Kiwi werewolves.

It is the anti-Twilight (and that's a compliment), as well as a reminder that Waititi and Clement are capable of much more. Unlike their characters, they don't have time to spare on dalliances like this.