Not Your Average Vampire Movie: A Film Review of “What We Do In The Shadows”
Bram Stoker likely had no idea how, his mythical creature, Dracula, would have a massive and international influence on modern pop culture and film. We have the original blood-hungry and cruel vampires in Interview with the Vampire: Vampire Chronicles starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, we have the adorable vampire school girl from Japanese manga(comic book) “Chibi Vampire”. We also have the sexy vampires in “Twilight”. Countless other Vampire-inspired pieces of culture are True Blood, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries…
Just as the legacy of the bat never stops, the vampire is reborn again, this time in New Zealand as the comedic creatures in What We Do In the Shadows – a mockumentary about vampires trying to fit in with modern human society. Sounds too familiar? William Goldman the popular screenwriter and novelist, sums up the movie business: “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” And that perfectly captures this movie’s success and surprising brilliance.
The movie follows three immortal vampires Viago, Vladisvav and Deacon. In the original novel Dracula, Stoker describes the blood-sucking creatures as “as strong as twenty men,” and vicious and antagonistic towards humans. In this movie, the vampires live among humans, in an apartment, not in an isolated, gothic, and intimidating castle as in the book. They must learn to cope with the striking changes in their surroundings while retaining their distinctly, minority-like biological traits such as avoiding sunlight, sucking humans’ blood for food, and having no reflections in the mirror. This is documented in their daily lives, through mundane, very mortal activities such as paying the bills, trying to sneak into a nightclub (vampires cannot enter a territory without someone inviting them in). Their lives take a turning point when a human transforms into a vampire and joins their group.
Throughout the movie, the three vampires are all portrayed as quirky dorks. By doing this, the movie tries to poke fun at the stereoptypical strong and vicious vampire figures in almost all popular vampire films, books, and shows. Viago, a “18th century dandy” who monitors the housing chores, likes to play pranks on his friends, and has a crush on a female human. A “young” rebellious vampire, Deacon, was in Nazi vampire troops formed by Hitler, but had to flee to protect his life when WWII ended. The last one is Vladisvad, known as “The Poker”, and he is a sadist vampire raised in Medieval times, who in spite of his tendency to torture his victims, has a soft side. The humor in all of these characters is self-evident.
One particular aspect that intrigues me about the film is the concept of immortality. Two humans in the film are willing to be servants running errands for the vampires. In turn, their masters bite them, turning them into immortal vampires.
They are willing to go to extreme lengths to live forever, in exchange for not being able to see the daylight, not being able to eat food, etc… It also strikes me that the daily life of vampires in a human world, as portrayed seen in the movie, is actually quite tough. There are many limits to being a vampire in the human world, that in some ways, seems to question whether or not immortality is worth it in the end.
To be a vampire or not to be vampire? Is it rewarding to be immortal, if it helps a couple live forever with each other?
These are some of the deep philosophical questions that the movie raises. But after watching the movie I began to think about immortality. Isn’t the point of living forever to experience the limitless choices we have, not to live like vampires, with severe limitations on what we can and cannot do?
Also, as evinced in the movie, vampires have emotions. The vampires in What We Do In The Shadows have nuanced experiences with emotions and feelings, just like humans. Being immortal vampires means transcending our limits, having superior strengths, but emotionally, this immortality may take a toll on our mentality. We experience the demise of our loved ones, feel more heartbreak, see more sad scenes like the decaying of the Earth. The new vampire Nick, formerly a human, said “I am done with being a vampire”, after he puked out rivers of blood as his body reacted to French Fries, his favorite food. Though comical, the movie seems to question the merits of immortality in a deeply philosophical way.
Aside from its philosophical underpinnings, the movie is most definitely comedic, characterized by deadpan humor (delivered with no emotion). By the time the ending credits rolled around, I had already collected a series of hilarious and original quotes.
Using little to no fancy effects, the director tries to keep the film modest, to emulate the documentary and investigative style. At some points while watching the film, it looks so real that I believed I was is truly observing the life of actual vampires, as if they really did exist in the human world.
Take a break from Hollywood movies and experience for yourself this movie from an underrated country that produced The Lord of the Rings and The Piano. You will find it originally funny at third times as the first time you see it. The movie is available on Amazon Prime and Prime Student.