The cohabiting vampires ride public transportation and use a chore wheel.
When we think of vampires, we think of conspicuous wealth. Consider Count Dracula and his castle. But what about vampires of modest means? Might they share a grubby apartment and ride public transportation? That's the conceit of What We Do in the Shadows, an uproariously funny mockumentary from some of the New Zealanders who brought you HBO's Flight of the Conchords. The writers and directors are Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, who understand that the qualities we associate with scary movie vampires -- solemnity, vanity, obsession with control -- make excellent comedy fodder.
We also associate those qualities with characters from mockumentaries co-created by Christopher Guest, such as Waiting for Guffman and This Is Spinal Tap. Sly and stylish, What We Do in the Shadows resembles the Guest films, especially in the way the egotistical characters have to deal with mundane situations, such as splitting up the household tasks. Like the Spinal Tap musicians, these vampires aren't as effective as they think they are. Take Vladislav (Clement), who is proud of his ability to hypnotize victims. He is stymied when, standing outside someone's house, he is unable to work his magic on a would-be slave, who is seen through a window watching television, blankly.
The cohabiting vampires are led by Viago (Waititi), who is brighter than the others, but not by much. He is a type familiar to anyone who had roommates in college: the fussy one who insists on implementing a chore wheel. Rounding out the main trio is Deacon (Jonathan Brugh). He has hired a servant (Jackie Van Beek) who, like Renfield in Dracula, is under the vampire's control. Unlike Renfield, she doesn't eat spiders and flies. She operates a leaf blower.
A fourth, little-seen roommate, Petyr (Ben Fransham), is bald and pale, like Max Schreck in Nosferatu. He sets the loosely structured plot in motion by attacking a young, skinny-jeans-wearing houseguest named Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who turns into a vampire and struggles to be accepted. The other vampires seem stuck in Victorian times, and Nick introduces them to modern practices, like chatting on Skype and taking selfies.
All of this unfolds with superb understatement, which is the key to this sort of comedy. Also understated are the special effects, which don't draw undue attention to themselves. I smiled when I recognized cinema's classic "dancing on the ceiling" effect, familiar from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some effects are played up for laughs, including the spewing gore of a chaotic vampiric assault. A blood-splattered Viago looks disappointed when he is interviewed afterward. The room is now a mess, even though he carefully put down newspaper in a bit of preemptive housekeeping that would make Felix Unger proud.