What We Do in the Shadows
Two and half stars (out of four)
Not Rated (violence, sexual content, language)
(The film received an extremely limited release and is playing this week and next at BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster.)
When it comes to vampires and geography, we tend to think of Transylvania, New Orleans, London, Forks, Wa., even Santa Cruz (ah, “The Lost Boys”). We don’t tend to think of New Zealand.
To most Americans, New Zealand is famous as the location of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and not much else. It’s not a place we’d except to find a thriving coven of brooding bloodsuckers.
The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” The film was made by and stars New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, gothic, darkly thrilling vampire movies audiences are accustomed to.
To be frank, the creatures of the night who inhabit “Shadows” aren’t very good at being vampires.
Drawing much of its appeal from its irresistible brand of awkward, laid-back Kiwi humor, “Shadows” was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of hilarious comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, and actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi.
Like the short-lived “Conchords” HBO series, “Shadows” revolves around oddball flatmates who fit together comfortably, whatever their quirks, but are clumsy when it comes to navigating the outside world.
In the movie, these flatmates are centuries-old monsters, holed up in a crumbling, genuinely creepy ruin on the outskirts of Wellington. They’ve invited a documentary crew to take a glimpse into their everyday lives, which are more mundane than anything Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer ever envisioned.
The den mother of these fanged fiends is Viago (Waititi), a cheery Victorian nobleman with a flair for antiquated fashion, still pining after an unrequited crush.
Viago tenderly looks after pals Vladislav (Clement), a Dracula-type with a taste for orgies and sadism; 8,000-year-old Petyr, a hideous fanged thing who lurks in the basement; and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the 183-year-old youngster of the group and self-professed party animal.
Like most roomies, these guys squabble over chores, give each other fashion tips (it’s hard to put together a nice ensemble when you can’t see yourself in the mirror), play pranks on their guests (Here’s a tip: don’t eat the spaghetti), weather catastrophes, like “fatal sunlight accidents,” and look forward to the social gathering of the year, the Unholy Masquerade.
Improvising heavily and impressively, Clement, Waititi and the rest of the cast mine laughs by subverting vampire movie tropes from everything from “Interview With the Vampire,” to “The Lost Boys,” to “Twilight,” and classics like “Nosferatu.”
There’s nothing suave, sexy or even very sinister about these bloodsuckers, who dress like they’re appearing in a mash-up of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Saturday Night Fever” and struggle to adapt to modern technology, including cellphones and Facebook, with the help of their new human friend, IT guy Stu (Stuart Rutherford). Stu is so helpful, they’ve all agreed not to eat him.
“Shadows” has a very loose plot, revolving around the conflict that erupts with the addition of newly initiated, indiscreet vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) to the group. Some viewers may find this tedious.
Still, the film’s got enough gore and fun special effects to satisfy horror aficionados. If the initially clever concept begins to feel a bit threadbare, there are more than enough high points to make up for it.
In one scene, Viago and friends encounter a pack of testy but polite werewolves, led by ginger-headed “Conchords” alum Rhys Darby.
“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves,” he declares.
That’s a hashtag if there ever was one.