What we do in the Shadows review: a comedy about four vampires squabbling over the washing-up

What We Do in the Shadows
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Director: Taika Waititi , Jemaine Clement
Cert: 15A
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh
Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins

Here it comes. Prepare yourself for the critical construction that won’t stop giving. They weren’t wrong about vampires being indestructible. Ha, ha!

It's nearly 20 years since Buffy disinterred the genre. It is close to a decade since Stephenie Meyer's Twilight became a publishing sensation. True Blood finally ended this year. However many stakes you ram into however many chests, the blasted things keep escaping the crypt. Will this do?

On paper, it doesn't look as if Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, graduates of Flight of the Conchords, have come up with any startlingly new innovations here. The British sitcom Being Human has already toyed with the idea of ghouls sharing a suburban flat. Heck, there are reminders of The Addams Family in What We Do in the Shadows. But the Kiwi team have brought a surprisingly fresh – and fetid – tone to this consistently amusing mockumentary. At the risk of patronising our Antipodean friends, the Wellington locations add greatly to the queasy fun. There is (to the Irish eye, anyway) something simultaneously familiar and off-kilter about urban New Zealand that works nicely as the setting for a comedy about four ancient blood-suckers squabbling over the washing-up.

The housemates have all died at different points in history and, thus, have different perspectives on the vampire experience. Waititi plays Viago, an 18th-century fop who would feel at home in one of Anne Rice’s novels. Clement essays the more ancient, more roughly Gothic Vladislav the Poker. At a mere 183, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) has some connection with the modern age. Ben Fransham’s Petyr, a pale, bald Nosferatu-alike, rarely makes it out of the basement.


Nodding vigorously to The Young Ones, the film has enormous fun addressing mundane concerns through the vampires' warped lenses. Vicious, but rather sweet, the gang struggle to maintain decorum while keeping the blood flowing. "Are you, erm, predeceased?" somebody coyly asks a still-quick acquaintance.

Most impressively, the film-makers manage to make something genuinely poignant of their characters' deathly plight. Though conceived simultaneously, What We Did in the Shadows seems to take place in a similar world to that occupied by the characters in Jim Jarmusch's touching Only Lovers Left Alive.

Did we not mention Jim’s film in the opening paragraph? You really can’t kill these things.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist