“We’re not Twilight!” Thus protests a New Zealand vampire, confronted with a noob—bitten within the past decade—who tries to drag his exiled undead tribe into the 21st century of Skype and instant messaging. There are no jokes about Facebook here, but What We Do nicely settles upon the conflict between age-old vampire traditions and today’s hook-up customs.
Granted, the premise here is ’90s-stale: basically MTV’s The Real World cast with vampires, presented as direct-address documentary. The droll comedy comes from the brain trust behind 2007’s Eagle Vs. Shark: Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi, who play neck-biters Vladislav and Viago, respectively. Also in their unkempt household are lazy Deacon and basement-dwelling Petyr (the latter in full Nosferatu fright makeup). Mind-control and flying are uncertain aids to their blood feasts, and these vampires make a for a hapless coven—flock? pack? gaggle? what is the proper term?—of undead would-be swingers. Viago is still stuck on a lost paramour, now 96; and while Vladislav talks a great game, like some bloodthirsty Lord Byron, he can barely get lucky. Patrolling the darkened streets of Wellington, our three main vamps can’t get invited into any of the good clubs or discos—they end up forlorn in an all-night Chinese diner.
After all the aestheticized languor of Only Lovers Left Alive (and the earnest teen soap opera of Twilight), the silly deadpan tone here is quite welcome. Clement and Waititi know this is a sketch writ large (forget about plot), so they never pause long between sneaky gags. The ever-polite neatnik Viago, before a date, carefully lays out newspapers on the floor to contain the mess. A rival pack of werewolves, led by Conchords manager Rhys Darby, struggles mightily against lupine transformation—they’re like a sensitive Robert Bly talk circle. The recent convert to the group, besotted with his new flying powers, quickly becomes a nuisance. Instead of the window, Vladislav snaps, “Why don’t you just use the door?”
When the city’s vampires, zombies, werewolves, and witches assemble for their annual masquerade ball, the gathering has a desperate, dorky air like Comic-Con or cosplayers. But that’s really Clement and Waititi’s core joke: These neck-biters have been at it so long that they’re only imitating old vampire stereotypes. Things have gotten to the point, Vladislav admits, where they’re even cribbing from The Lost Boys.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Opens Fri., Feb. 20 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 85 minutes.