What We Do In The Shadows is not in the shadows anymore
A vampire is one of those fantastic creatures that tend to always attract the viewer’s attention, for one reason or another. Whether it’s because they imply a certain level of horror and grotesqueness, having to feed on blood. Or of romance, being creatures who make passion and libido – however anatomically debated – their banner. Not many people certainly think of it in a humorous sense.
What We Do In The Shadows, however, possesses all three elements, and manages to mix them in a coherent way with each other.
What We Do In The Shadows is a TV show created by Jemain Clement and produced by FX. It aired for the first time in 2019 and is still in production with five seasons under its belt and a sixth underway.
What We Do In The Shadows, the movie
It all started in New Zealand in 2014. Directed by Jemain Clement himself and Taika Waititi (also director of movies such as JoJo Rabbit), it is about a group of vampires who live in modern Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. All told in the form of a mockumentary.
The idea that the creators of the movie had already had was to consider vampires as certainly age-old creatures as literature teaches. But not only. After all, if someone can live forever, such vampires might, at some point, start behaving like manchildren. When death is not on the horizon and boredom takes over, you may stop seeking any form of maturity. There is no reason to change, if you can live forever without apparently significant consequences. They follow the social rules of when they were mortal, and they can’t adapt to the modern world. They’re certainly not Twilight vampires, after all.
The 2014 film was a great success, although distribution was limited after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and there has been talk of a sequel several times. The What We Do In The Shadows TV show comes from here.
Characters are the real strength
Instead of being in New Zealand, the protagonist vampires are in New York, specifically in Staten Island. They are Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Lazlo (Matt Berry), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). In addition to them, Nandor’s human familiar also lives in the house, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who has served his master for years and years and would like Nandor to transform him into a vampire himself sooner or later, despite being a descendent of the most famous vampire hunter of all time, Van Helsing.
The characterization of the characters is precisely the driving force of the show. Of course, knowing that misfit vampires are trying to integrate into society is already fun in itself, but this is possible, in addition to the prevailing anachronism, also because of their personal characters.
Nandor is a man who in his time (during the Ottoman Empire) was a respected and cruel ruler, but now he is constantly teased and therefore has moments of insecurity that he tries to compensate for with over-the-top demonstrations. Nadja comes from a remote region that is now conveniently part of modern Greece. She is often frustrated with the dynamics within the house, and nostalgic for her life as a human. Laszlo is Nadja’s husband, whom she transformed into a vampire centuries earlier. He is a former English nobleman obsessed with sexuality in all its forms.
The first three are vampires in the classic sense of the term: they drink blood and can transform into animals, especially bats. Colin Robinson, on the other hand, is an energy vampire: he feeds exactly on the energy of those around him, sucking it out of them thanks to tedious and boringly exasperating speeches. Often to the detriment of his roommates too.
Guillermo is the one who manages to make the vampires maintain a bit of balance, preventing their life (and literally even their home) from collapsing in on itself. He is the one who solves problems, which often involve the deaths of humans and other vampires. The show, in fact, often takes gore and horror turns, full of blood and death, but, being it a comedy, they are light and captivating.
As in the original movie, the TV show is a mockumentary. A bit like Modern Family or The Office, in which the events of each episode go hand in hand with interviews with the characters. In What We Do In The Shadow the documentary style is even more highlighted, due to on-screen texts during the interviews, the characters addressing the operators and the director directly, the cameramen’s hands or booms sometimes visible, wrong or out-of-focus shots, or even the accidental death of some member of the crew due to some vampire outside the family. However, they always remain behind the camera, they have no faces or names, they never speak, but certainly offer ideas for further interactions with the protagonists to bring out their most hidden sides in a more natural way.
Living in the modern world, it is normal for vampires to be in touch with today’s culture. At least, when they decide to leave the house. Yet, in their language made up of ancient terms, citations to modern works are not missing.
For example, Nandor, in one episode, wishes to shine like the vampires in Twilight. A bit like in The Big Bang Theory, with the vampires who are anything but nerds or geeks. The comparison holds up thinking also about the number of cameos in What We Do In The Shadows; there are scenes in which the same actors from the 2014 film are present, under the guise of other characters: Waititi and Clement, but also Wesley Snipes and Tilda Swinton (Grand Budapest Hotel, Snowpiercer, Del Toro’s Pinocchio). Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, and Mark Hamill are just some of the names in the show. Whether they play a human, themselves, a vampire or another creature of the night, they certainly contribute to immersing the viewer in the air of modern America, with that mixture of wonder and curiosity that the protagonists themselves must be constantly feeling.
Till death do us part
Anytime I get to do any kind of weird business like that, I love it, just because I’m a lazy actor. So, you give me a crazy outfit, and some singing, and I’m all there, because it’s fun. And it doesn’t require a ton of effort on my part to be funny.Mark Proksch for Screenrant
What We Do In The Shadows is now in its fifth season, released in 2023. However, it has not lost its edge, even though, over time, certain situations could have become repetitive as they are extremely everyday. The horizontal line of the story, however, with Guillermo who would like to become a vampire, takes an unexpected turn that leads the characters to deepen the bond that unites them. Perhaps they are not a real family, but they come very close.
All without forgetting its hilarious comedy, because if there is one thing that vampires do well – at least in this universe – it is making people laugh.