Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Four swingin’ vampires living in New Zealand have their lives disrupted by a documentary crew and the presence of a new bloodsucker.

REVIEW: The psychological torment of walking this Earth as a vampire has never been so amusingly explored as it is in WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS the fun, quirky and bloody mockumentary from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waitati (both of whom also star). Not that the movie gets bogged down in any kind of somber mood; it’s just finding new ways to tackle age-old vampire tropes, such as the agony of immortality, the yearning to see sunlight again, and the sad truth that you can’t be friends with most humans without making an attempt on their lives. At the risk of sounding like a cliche, SHADOWS is to vampires what THIS IS SPINAL TAP is to musicians. It’s seriously good time.

The film is purported to be the work of “The New Zealand Documentary Board,” although it doesn’t go much further into the hows or whys of the doc itself. The focus is a quartet of ancient vampires living in a Wellington bachelor pad and doing what most single guys do: cruise nightclubs looking for supple flesh, get into scraps with rivals (in this case, werewolves), argue amongst themselves and more or less just try to make it through the day (or night). Viago (Waitati) is a good-natured sort, intent on keeping their crypt nice and tidy; Vlad (Clement) is a wannabe Dracula, with a Romanian accent and forced air of regal charm; Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the “young bad boy” (he’s only a few hundred years old) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) is a Nosferatu lookalike who mostly stays in his coffin in the cellar and eats live chickens.

Life isn’t always easy for these amiable bloodsuckers; there’s the matter of daily chores to attend to (the dishes haven’t been washed in five years), and luring humans back to their pad is easier said than done. Getting into clubs is even harder, because don’t forget they have to be invited in before they can get their game on. Not that they’re exactly aware of how they look; not being able to see their reflections makes dressing-up a chore.

The crux of the plot is the introduction of a new vamp, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who was intended to be dinner one night but was instead turned into a member of the undead. Nick is simultaneously thrilled with his new supernatural status (he can’t help but stroll drunkenly down the street telling anyone who’ll listen he’s a vampire), but is bummed about the little things: not being able to suntan or watch daytime television are biggies. The original quartet is rather nonplussed by his presence; they’re more excited about Nick’s bland human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who becomes a fixture in the household thanks to his passive demeanor and his ability to expose the guys to the technological wonders of the world. (They can now watch sunrises on YouTube!)

The plot, such as it is, doesn’t matter much; SHADOWS is a movie that moves along on its own sweet charm and goofy swagger. It almost has the rhythm of a sitcom; as one crazy situation subsides, another one arises. All of the vampire cliches are utilized, and with full knowledge they’re cliches; that’s the point and fun of the film. And yet you don’t have to have complete knowledge of vampire lore to get these gags; Waitati and Clement have made the comedy accessible enough so that everyone will be able to enjoy it. (Although be warned: things do get bloody every now and again.)

The entire cast is wholly likable (Stu is destined to be a particular fan favorite); always-funny Clement will be the most recognizable to anyone outside of New Zealand thanks to his “Flight of the Conchords” exploits, but it’s Waitati who really steals the show. His Viago is a ceaselessly sweet creature, the nicest monster to ever spew an innocent’s blood all over the room. It’s not a stretch to say you’d risk your neck just to be friends with the guy. To add to the point, it’s not at all a stretch to say I’d love to see a few more movies about this unorthodox clan; here’s a potential franchise you can be assured won’t suck. (Sorry.)


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Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.