You’ve got to love a thing to skewer it as thoroughly as Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement do in their delightfully silly vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows.”
The film’s writers, directors and stars lovingly impale bloodsucker mythology with the sharpened wooden stick of comedy. As with “Shaun of the Dead,” their satire is a crude but effective tool.
Clement is best known as half of the comedic folk-music duo featured in HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords.” A fellow New Zealander, Waititi is behind the celebrated indie comedies “Eagle vs. Shark” and “Boy.”
This new movie is set in a Wellington group house, where four undead housemates — ranging in age from 183 to 8,000 — are being followed by a documentary film crew. (The cameramen all wear crucifixes and have been given contractual immunity against being eaten while filming.)
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As with many a house occupied by dudes, the guys here — Vladislav (Clement), Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) — spend a fair amount of time squabbling over chores and housekeeping. Several funny bits feature Viago, the neat freak, griping about Petyr’s failure to clean up the human spinal column left outside the stone crypt he lives in, or gently reminding his other roommates to put towels down on the good couch before chomping on victims.
The visual special effects are simple but efficient: The boys fly (on what are obviously digitally erased wires), transform into bats and other creatures, and generally make a mess. Waititi and Clement’s jokes, which are often delivered directly to the camera, a la “The Office” and other faux documentaries, are sometimes lowbrow, but often very funny. Explaining his affinity for gratuitous violence from the perspective of someone who has read a few self-help books, Vlad says, “I tended to torture when I was in a bad place.”
Although “What We Do in the Shadows” isn’t a direct parody of “Twilight” and other vampire films, it does sink its teeth, more generally, into the supernatural horror genre. Along with appearances by a couple of zombies, there’s a pack of werewolves with whom the film’s protagonists have an ongoing rivalry. And there’s a recurring sight gag about vampires’ inability to be reflected in mirrors. (This makes it somewhat difficult, you see, to primp in preparation for a night on the town.)
Among the supporting cast, Jackie van Beek is quite good as Deacon’s human “familiar,” or slave. (She does the laundry, mops up blood and recruits victims, among other thankless tasks, all while waiting to be turned into an immortal.) Cori Gonzalez-Macuer also is funny as Nick, a newbie vampire who moves in after being bitten by Petyr and who experiences a bit of culture shock. As Nick’s human friend Stu — beloved by the vampires for the matter-of-fact way he accepts their unorthodox lifestyle — Stuart Rutherford is a charmer.
Unlike “Trollhunter,” a 2010 Norwegian film that similarly used documentary-style footage of “real-life” trolls, “Shadows” isn’t a horror film, per se. According to Waititi and Clement, it was inspired by an intriguing question: What if grown men suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome stayed in a state of retarded maturity not for years, but for centuries? It’s a comedy, in other words, about the tension between the search for eternal youth and the inevitable acquisition of wisdom, despite our best efforts to avoid it.
Sound serious? Hardly. “What We Do in the Shadows,” made in partnership with the comedy website Funny or Die, is laughable — at times sublimely so.
(At the Tivoli.)
‘WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS’
Not rated | Time: 1:26