Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi broke new ground in 2014 with the feature film What We Do in the Shadows by blending the tried and true mockumentary formula with an adept understanding of vampire lore and history. The movie contained the perfect blend of shocking moments and witty banter, and it wasn’t afraid to reveal that there was a genuine heart somewhere under all of that pumping blood. When it was announced that the franchise would live on in the form of a new television series, there was most certainly a lingering question of whether fans could fall in love again with brand new characters and a new setting. Clement and Waititi wrote, directed, and starred in the original film; but this time around they’re only on board for the occasional writing or directing duty. Fortunately, however, the new What We Do in the Shadows series faithfully resurrects the spirit of their beloved film and it introduces the audience to a plethora of hilarious new characters and clever flourishes on the mockumentary format.
The newcomers to the franchise had a tall order to fill in replacing fan-favorites such as Clement’s Vladislav and Waititi’s Viago, but Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, and Matt Berry instantly prove to be more than capable of delivering hilariously earnest portrayals of classic archetypal bloodsuckers. Novak’s Nandor pronounces everything with such an outrageous Count Dracula-esque Eastern European accent that even such basic proclamations as “I call out to you Doug Peterson” become laugh out loud moments. And his fascination with grocery store “creepy paper” shows he hasn’t quite figured out how to adapt to the modern world. Demetriou’s Nadja can break the seriousness of any situation with a well-placed maniacal laugh or over-enthusiastic statement; and her love/hate relationship with her spouse (Berry’s Laszlo) will clearly provide hours of enjoyment in the coming episodes. And whether he’s luring a pack of raccoons with his silver flute or explaining his lurid history with Doug Jones’ Baron Afanas with a level of verbosity rivaling William Shakespeare, it’s easy to get caught up in the over the top ridiculousness of the premise of these out of place aristocrats in the banal modern world.
The breakout star of the new series is Mark Proksch, with his deadpan delivery as a brand new type of vampire to the franchise: the energy vampire. Similar to his work with Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington in On Cinema, Proksch’s Colin Robsinson could suck the life out of any social gathering with a few well-placed explanations about double-decker buses or the pros and cons of Q-tip usage. In Episode 3, he meets his match at work when Vanessa Bayer arrives on the scene as Evie, an emotional vampire whose feeding strategy consists of weighing down her co-workers with stories about her sick animals and financial troubles. By the time the two agree to pair up to hunt, I found myself gasping for air in between fits of laughter! The show excels at tongue in cheek dry humor meant to drum up a chortle or two, but its not afraid to ramp up its outrageous moments to inspire more than a few guffaws per episode.
The mockumentary genre has been a staple of comedy programming for years now, but What We Do in the Shadows cleverly plays with the format to make the series feel interesting and new. About midway through the Pilot episode, organ music plays while the camera shows Nadja out on the prowl, searching for a man who resembles a mortal lover of her’s from the old country. At the end of her scene, the music stops and the camera cuts to a shot of Laszlo sitting at the organ. He says, “I call that ‘Nadja’s theme.'” Turns out, he’s been playing it the whole time and the music wasn’t simply a part of the background. This is juxtaposed with the fact that he’s playing a beautiful song that he wrote for his wife while she’s out trying to initiate an affair. It’s a clever moment that plays on the audience’s understanding and expectations of background music in video storytelling and the concept of using different musical themes to highlight the actions of different characters; and this layered presentation reveals that these filmmakers plan to simultaneously poke fun at their characters and their craft.
Three episodes in, What We Do in the Shadows is consistently fresh, funny, and engaging. I find myself devoutly interested in the paths these characters take in their quest to control Staten Island, and I simply can’t wait for each new episode to air. This the show to watch right now if you’re even remotely interested in vampires and/or comedies.
Stay tuned to Horror News Network for complete coverage of What We Do in the Shadows as soon as it breaks!