"What We Do In The Shadows" Worth Salivating Over

New Zealanders Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi made their feature length debut with 2007 indie “Eagle Vs. Shark.” With the former in front of the camera and the latter behind it, the film wasn’t without its understated charms, but it was understated to the point of near anonymity. Suffice it to say, it never found much of an audience.

Cut to 2015. Clement is now a known commodity – he comprises half of folk-comedy duo Flight Of The Conchords – and Waititi has honed his craft, in part on the brilliant HBO musical-comedy based on Clement’s band. With a further decade of comedy under their belts, their follow-up feature is here. And in retrospect, the wait should have been absolutely painful.

“What We Do In The Shadows” is a mockumentary in the vein of “This Is Spinal Tap,” telling the tale of a quartet of centuries-old vampires living in modern day Wellington, New Zealand. It’s a premise that will bowl over absolutely no one, but no matter. Clement and Waititi mine gold from each of its 85 minutes, giving the world its best horror-comedy since Edgar Wright’s “Shaun Of The Dead.”

But where “Shaun” was more concerned with homage than laughs, “Shadows” is meticulous in its comedy, elaborately setting up punchlines without telegraphing any of them. The byproducts of which are a couple of all-time great sight gags and quotable lines in bulk, the most this side of “Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy.”

The comedy is so layered, in fact, that it would be pointless to try to recreate it here. But the gist is that our leads (Vladislav and Viago, performed wonderfully by Clement and Waititi, respectively) are blood-sucking beasts out of place and out of time, dealing with the same mundane practicalities that we all do. In their own unique way, of course, all steeped in vampire lore.

Like putting paper towel down on the living room floor before messily feasting on a victim. Or dealing with the generational gaps within their de facto family (they range in age from 183 to 8000 years). Or finding a dentist who practices at night.

Absurdity is the order of the day, never wading into satire or parody, and it’s what Clement has always done best. Waititi clearly has as big a talent for it as his co-conspirator. It’s he, not Clement, who gives the film its best performance. Viago is the well-meaning, painfully self-aware, sort of sweet ventricle of the film, pumping lifeblood into its most silly scenes. But Clement is no slouch performer either, with his deadpan delivery as sharp as ever.

Of the leads, Jonathan Brugh as the pompous Deacon is the weak link. His performance is a broad one, bordering on ridiculous. But he’s hardly terrible and the rest of the supporting cast – including a delightful cameo from “Conchords” regular Rhys Darby as a Werewolf – holds its own.

Audiences not in tune with the Conchords’ brand of humor might have trouble adjusting to the film’s frequency, but most comedy fans should find themselves howling. And when not howling, giggling.

It takes a special film to be bloody and sweet and dark and good-natured all at once, but “What We Do In The Shadows” is that distinct and time might prove it special, indeed. Fans will be quoting the film for decades to come, destined to feel part of an exclusive club who sunk their teeth into it from the starting gate.

From top to bottom, it’s a comedy worth salivating over.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: February 13, 2015 (Limited)
Studio: Unison Films, Paladin
Director: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Screenwriter: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Starring: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford
MPAA Rating: Not Rated