The enticingly macabre Halloween season has quickly encroached upon my already poor sense of time, and it’s made me think a lot about this movie called “What We Do in the Shadows.” “Shadows” is a comedy film, specifically a mockumentary, about a group of vampires sharing a house (or flat, as they are referred to in the film’s setting New Zealand). Directed by Jermaine Clemente of “Flight of the Concords” and Taika Waititi of “Thor: Ragnarök,” the movie is dripping with the clever, idiosyncratic style of kiwi humor found in each director’s previous works. It genuinely makes me laugh out loud quite often.
This movie has an equally hilarious TV show version, produced in the United States by FX and focusing on a different group of vampires in Staten Island, NY. Thematically, however, the movie and TV show are quite similar. I watched both the movie and two seasons of the show this past March and April. Honestly, they were just points on a long laundry list of movies and TV shows I watched over the course of quarantine this past spring and summer. But something about “Shadows” makes it stick out in my memory. It’s been over half a year since I watched it while being holed up in my parents’ living room, unable to do anything else. That seems so long ago, but it also seems so recent. Ultimately, that is really the movie’s central theme, which I didn’t fully realize until re-watching it this month.
The vampires Iago, Vladislav, Deacon and Petyr are completely isolated from time, and, by extension, almost completely isolated from society. They are undead, unable to die unless murdered, and are centuries and centuries old. Petyr, about one thousand years old, is something of a classic Nosferatu type, whereas Deacon is the “young bad boy of the group,” clocking in at 183. They’re catty, they’re out of touch, the majority of their friends are vampires, the majority of their enemies are also vampires and they’re very, very lonely. Together, they’re out of time and stuck with one another. Watching this in March, I really only recognized this as a great premise for gags, combining mockumentary-style filmmaking with vampire tropes and lore. But now I see it as a somber reflection of aging and the passage of time, and the uncertainty that comes along with that.
To discuss the movie without spoiling its humor is difficult. However, there are scenes including introducing a brand-new vampire to the group, a human named Stu teaches the vampires about the Internet, vampire and human love interests, the rivalry between the vampires and the werewolves (whose alpha male, played by kiwi comedian Rhys Darby, reprimands them for using dirty language by citing their identity as “werewolves, not *swear*wolves”). The movie has a lot of goofy jokes that give me great big belly laughs, but each joke is also very sweet. It’s nice to see the vampires excited to watch a YouTube video of a sunset, because it reminds us that they can no longer enjoy something we see as a simple pleasure. This sentiment struck me as incredibly relatable seven months into a pandemic. Typically, I don’t like comedy that I perceive as too cynical or nihilistic, a tone which certainly exists in this movie. But overall, the film is generally well-intentioned and optimistic: a comedy movie that tickles you in the ribs rather than kicking you in the butt.
“What We Do in the Shadows” was strange and fun to rewatch this semester. It’s like watching a very small, tight-knit community made up of isolated individuals while actually living in a small, tight-knit community during a time of constant social isolation.
There are definitely times during quarantine when I have wanted to fight my “flatmates” for not doing the dishes; it’s just that our dishes have food residue on them, not blood. Being here at Wittenberg during this pandemic is certainly something for which I am very grateful, but it’s hard to ignore how different life on campus is. It’s like the lifestyle experienced by the vampires: basically the same, but with some undeniable differences. I would still much rather live as a college student during a pandemic than as a vampire. Either way, I hope you watch “What We Do in the Shadows” and enjoy it as much as I do.