Sundance Film Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

What We Do in the Shadows

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement direct themselves in this anemic vampire romp.

A mock documentary about Wellington vampires, “What We Do in the Shadows” begins with a title card jokingly crediting the pic to “the New Zealand Documentary Board” — the first and nearly the last gag related to its would-be comic conceit. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement direct themselves as, respectively, Viago, aged 379, and Vladislav, 862, amiable bloodsuckers who share a flat along with “bad boy” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), 183, and the 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham). Some genre fans who prefer the silly to the satiric may bite, but the anemic pic isn’t remotely weird or witty enough for cult immortality.

Characteristic of the movie’s sense of humor is a scene in which the fussy Viago, struggling to primp himself for a night on the town, looks to the camera and complains, “The bad thing about not having a reflection is that you don’t know what you look like.” Equally funny mock-newsreel footage reveals Viago’s Nazi past.

Needing someone to help lure fresh victims to their pad (and to clean their kitchen full of bloody dishes), the undead roomies sentence the human Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) to a life of indentured servitude with the possibility of immortality. Another temporary human, the twentysomething Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), gets bitten by the decrepit Petyr and becomes a total pain in the neck, bragging to anyone he can find that he’s the next Nosferatu.

Feeling eternal at 87 minutes, the film introduces a rival gang of G-rated werewolves (“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”) and drags its way to the Unholy Masquerade Ball, populated by hard-partying vampires as well as zombies — the movie’s final act of desperation.

Waititi, director of Kiwi hits “Eagle vs. Shark” and “Boy,” makes a genial vampire dandy, but, like Clement (co-star of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), he doesn’t have nearly enough to do. On the plus side, the film’s cinematography is sharp and colorful, and some of the special effects work well despite budgetary limitations, particularly those involving the transformation of vampires into bats and back again.

Sundance Film Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 20, 2014. Running time: 87 MIN.


(New Zealand-U.S.) A Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die production. (International sales: Wild Bunch/Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley, Emanuel Michael. Executive producers, Waititi, Jemaine Clement. Co-producer, Pamela Harvey White.


Directed, written by Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement. Camera (color, HD), Richard Bluck, DJ Stipsen; editors, Yana Gorskaya, Jonno Woodford-Robinson; music, Plan 9, David Donaldson, Steve Roche, Janet Roddick; art director, Ra Vincent; costume designer, Amanda Neale; set decorators, Amber Richards, Ben Whale; sound, Chris Hiles, Alexis Feodoroff, Toby Lloyd; supervising sound editor, Simon Riley; stunt coordinator, Rodney Cook; visual effects supervisors, Stan Alley, Darwin Go; special effects supervisors, Steve Ingram, Doug Falconer; assistant director, Rodney Smith.


Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Jackie Van Beek, Ben Fransham.

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  1. Karl says:

    What a loser! All i read here was a feeble attempt to TRY and find something to criticise. Anyone reading this to decide on watching it, do it despite Rob the slob – you won’t be the same, and “go do your bloody dishesdishes!!”

  2. chopstix2112 says:

    re: “”Some genre fans who prefer the silly to the satiric may bite, but the anemic pic isn’t remotely weird or witty enough for cult immortality.”

    you’re obviously sooo very wrong about that.

  3. Awesome review, accept for the inaccuracies ( confusing characters for each other ) and for your massive miss on if this will become a cult film, it has, oh and your general take on the movie. I did like the way you made it seem like you went to the movie by recalling the start and reciting the plot summary from wikipedia though. Like I said. Awesome. You are a good reviewer.

  4. Yuck Phu says:

    The movie is analagous to “This Is Spinal Tap” but based on the lives of vampires.

    The movie was very well made and hilarious. Just because Rob doesn’t get it (the premise and humor of this movie that is, although the other meaning may explain why he is so cranky), the other 90+ percentage of the critics and audience who did like rhis movie, do.

  5. Morphix7 says:

    This seems more like just someone who is going to go against the grain just for arguments sake. I’m glad that almost every comment on here is arguing and opposing your lack of appreciation for an overall great and funny film. I guess there’s bound to always be one in the bunch. But the truth is that the facts speak for themselves. You can have your silly opinion whilst the rest of us can appreciate this hilarious and well made comedy for what it is. A fun, and inspiring, gut busting, highly likable indie film by some very talented and funny filmmakers.
    I, for one, have not and most likely NEVER listen to anything Variety and its narrow-minded writers have to say on pretty much anything. Especially this Rob guy. Booo this man!!! BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

  6. Michael F. says:

    Taste in movies is subjective, of course, but when one’s own is so far-removed from that of virtually everyone else on God’s green earth who’s seen this sly, well-wrought and hysterical movie, maybe it’s time to consider whether you’re the modern day Bosley Crowther. In other words, Rob: you’re fired.

  7. Huh, it really is true what they say, Americans just don’t get good comedy. This is without doubt the funniest film to come out in years, and despite what this supposed expert might say, it’ll undoubtedly end up a cult hit of great longevity.

  8. but the anemic pic isn’t remotely weird or witty enough for cult immortality. – too late. word of mouth has already got that train out of the station. People will be quoting lines from it for a long time to come. There will be vampire chore wheels in kitchens from coast to coast.

  9. Mark says:

    When you say it will not gain cult immortality, what do you mean? Do you mean just in the US? Or globally? Also your review is more of a plot summary to me. Instead of going into detail about the plot, shouldn’t you go into detail about YOUR pros and cons about the film? For giving it the verdict you did, all I can extract as your reasons for it are that you didn’t like the transforming into a bat special effects and the length of the film with respect to how much they actually had to write about. Those are the problems with your review that I can and will blame you for. The one that I cannot blame you for are not seeing the bigger picture. Despite being released in the US, this film was not made for them. A large part of the humor comes from taking the piss out of the classic kiwi man and what he would do under the circumstances presented in the film. These being Nick, Stu, and the Vampire pack. Something no American could understand unless they spent a great deal of time in New Zealand. Bottom line releasing this film in the US is silly because a lot of Americans wouldn’t even be able to point out New Zealand on a map (that is not an insult, a lot of countries couldn’t), much less pick up the Kiwi humor spread throughout the film.

    • Uncle Sam says:

      It is too bad that your opinions of Americans are so low.
      That would be like us saying if those vampires had to spend their eternities in New Zealand, they would probably hope for someone to break into their flat and drive stakes through their hearts instead. :)

    • O'Death says:

      Kiwi humor is pretty big in the U.S. now, thanks largely to Flight of the Conchords. Many of us get it and think this film is brilliant. This reviewer, on the other hand, reflects poorly on us and we apologize on his behalf.

    • Hey, i’m from USA and I totally got the movie, any one who doesn’t get it can get a life. This movie rocks and if there is a cult following, I’m in the top ten first subscribers.

  10. george ezra says:

    You sir, have horrible taste.
    This movie is genius.

  11. Agnes A says:

    What movie did you watch Rob? Surely not the same one I watched at Sundance. Perhaps you were at a midnight screening and you were tired/grouchy…

  12. Rob H says:

    I saw the midnight screening of this film at Sundance and I and it seemed everyone else in the audience absolutely loved the film. I highly recommend this film to everyone who loves comedies and vampires. I also recommend to Variety to get a film reviewer who is a little more in touch with their readers….I never want to read another review from Nelson, talk about way off the mark.

  13. Mir says:

    How could this reviewer not be inspired and enlivened by the sheer joy of the audience. There was so much laughter that i even missed hearing consecutive jokes. People were discussing this film incredibly favourabily all around the festival. It is as if the reviewer saw a different film….

  14. Bears Fonte, Director of Programming, Austin Film Festival says:

    This is such an off-mark review, I wonder if the critic even saw the film. I attended a screening of WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS at Sundance – a press and industry screening no less — and the audience laughed from start to finish. At the conclusion of the film, the audience erupted into applause, the only time I saw this in 30+ P&I screenings the whole week. It was by far the funniest film I saw, a thought I heard echoed by many critics and film festival programmers. It is a shame that many people who did not get to attend sundance will have this review as the first impression of this film.

    • edward says:

      Perhaps he didn’t – or just wasn’t paying attention. After all he is under the impression that Viago rather than Deacon was the Nazi vampire.

    • Toby says:

      I loved this film.variety need to send a human being in to review this very awesome piece of happiness.Rob obviously needs a holiday.

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