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Film / What We Do in the Shadows

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"Vampires have had a pretty bad rep. We're not these mopey old creatures who live in castles. Well, most of us are... a lot are, but... There are those of us who like to flat together in small countries like New Zealand."

What We Do in the Shadows is a Supernatural Black Comedy Horror Mockumentary which follows three colorful, but lovable vampire flatmates: Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav, in their struggles to fit into modern-day Wellington society. When their eight-thousand-year-old extra flatmate Petyr (pronounced "Peter") attacks and turns twenty-something hipster Nick into a vampire, the guys must teach him the ropes of vampirism and guide him through his newfound eternal life. In turn, they are forced to learn a thing or two about modern society including technology, the Internet, and proper clubbing.

The film was co-directed as well as co-written by Taika Waititi (of Boy) and Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords), who both co-star. It was released in its home country, New Zealand, as well as a few others in 2014. It later met a limited release in the States in early 2015.

A Spin-Off series based around the two police officers O'Leary and Minogue, called Wellington Paranormal, premiered in 2018 on TVNZ. It was eventually picked up for US distribution in 2021 on The CW and HBO Max.

An American series based on the film called What We Do in the Shadows (2019), headed by Waititi and Clement, premiered on March 27, 2019 on FX. The show takes place in the same continuity as the film, but relocated to New York City and focusing on a different group of characters.

Tropes in this film include:

  • Affectionate Parody: The film parodies and references a whole slew of different vampire films, and the faithfulness of it all makes it very clear that Waititi and Clement hold a great deal of affection for the genre.
  • Ambiguously Human: There are a few really odd-looking creatures present at the Unholy Masquerade whose species the vampires can't even identify.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Nick is cast out of the flat for bringing a human into the flat (but everyone loves Stu, so they ignore that one), telling people that he's a vampire, getting Petyr killed, and wearing clothes that are too similar to Deacon's style. Even funnier, Viago says they were going in order of seriousness of the crime, so mimicking someone's style is apparently worse than murder. Though it's immediately lampshaded when Viago says that while they normally go in order of seriousness of the crime, they mentioned Petyr's death last for dramatic effect.
  • Bait-and-Switch Accusation: Done twice by the police officers investigating the house. Each time it turns out they were only referring to missing safety measures.
  • Bar Brawl: At the Masquerade, Vlad picks a fight with The Beast's current lover.
  • Black Comedy Animal Cruelty: The morning after the werewolves disembowel Stu and the cameraman, the police mistakenly put the blame on a stray dog and tell the camera crew that it will have to be put down.
  • Blatant Lies: Vladislav claims he was 16 when he was sired, and that's why he still looks 16 years old.note 
    • He does mention that life was hard for a 16 year old in his time, so he may be telling the truth, with a joke about how old people used to look.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Viago's attempted "dignified feeding" goes... messily, shall we say. With arterial spray akin to a Tarantino death scene. His panicked cursing just adds to the hilarity.
    • Later, Nick discovers that when a vampire eats normal food the result is projectile vomiting blood. Massive amounts of high-pressure blood.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The vampires have no qualms about killing humans yet they aren't necessarily considered evil. They just operate on a different set of moral standards than ours.
  • Brick Joke:
    • In an early scene, Viago explains that Vladislav can't get the faces quite right when he transforms into animals. A few scenes later, when Nick is trying to escape from the flat, he runs into a black cat with Vladislav's face.
    • During one of Vladislav's initial interviews, he mentions that his favorite torture to inflict on people was to poke them with various sharp objects, earning him the nickname of "Vlad the Poker". Comes the part where Stu demonstrates various ways of interacting on the Internet...
  • By-the-Book Cop: The two police officers are quick to point out any fire violations and are pleasant, but law-abiding throughout the meeting.
  • Camera Abuse: When the group is attacked by werewolves near the end, one of them attacks a cameraman, who drops the camera. Cue an Ominous Visual Glitch and footage of the cameraman being dragged away by a werewolf.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • The "vampire hunter" who Nick outs himself to turns out to really be a vampire hunter, and indirectly kills Petyr.
    • The werewolf pack shows up again after the Unholy Masquerade, on the night of the full moon, resulting in Stu being turned.
  • Coming-Out Story: Parodied. A little after being turned into a vampire, Nick invites Stu over and comes out as a vampire. Stu is... amazingly understanding and not at all freaked out.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: After Nick's flagrant violations against the flatmates result in his banishment "indefinitely" note , Nick is also subjected to a "really harsh punishment" called the Procession of Shame... Nick stands still while the other three vampires walk around him in a circle, pointing at him, sternly remarking, "Shame" (and even "bad vampire").
  • Demonic Head Shake: Nick does one in his bed as part of his transformation process into a vampire.
  • Destructive Romance: During the end credits, we learn that Vlad got back together with the Beast but their relationship remains problematic.
  • Disney Death: Stu appears to be killed by werewolves at the very end. However, he survived and was turned into a werewolf himself.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The zombie asking very furtively if Stu is "pre-deceased" strongly resembles an older gay man hitting on a younger man.
    • Nick deliberating over telling Stu that he's a vampire does resemble a friend contemplating on coming out to his best friend.
    • Viago's costumes getting a frigid reception is reminiscent to how blackface is discouraged. For extra clarity, Viago's costumes included Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act and Blade. The werewolves taking offense to Vlad's fur coat also has undertones of cultural appropriation.
  • Dull Surprise: Nick takes being turned into a vampire with only minor bemusement. Stu is also pretty chill with his best friend becoming a vampire.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: When Vlad appears at the Masquerade. First, his ex mistakes him for another lover of hers and then he struggles to get his mask off.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, and fairies, among other things.
  • Feedback Rule: The microphone at the Unholy Masquerade gives off a feedback when the announcer starts speaking.
  • From Bad to Worse: At the climax the main characters barely manage to escape the Unholy Masquerade with Stu and the camera crew. Then they run into the werewolves, who immediately attack them.
  • Fur Against Fang: Downplayed. The vampires and werewolves don't regularly come to blows, but neither really like each other and still see fit to mock and belittle each other whenever they cross paths. However, thanks to Stu turning into a werewolf at the end, both the vampires and the lycanthropes become friends.
  • Game Face: Nick shows one to the convenience store cashier who gets freaked out a good deal.
  • Glove Slap: Viago slaps one of the werewolves with a glove when they cross paths with the werewolf pack. The werewolves mostly just seem confused by this.
  • Hallway Fight: Nick and Deacon get into a fight in the hall of the apartment and start climbing the walls and ceiling.
  • Hero Antagonist: The vampire hunter, given that, for all of their better qualities, vampires are constantly killing innocent people without much remorse.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Happens to one of Viago's female victims when he accidentally hits her main artery.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Petyr turns Nick, who spills the vampire's address to a vampire-hunter that gets him killed.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Shortly after learning how to text, Viago sends Deacon a message that a "crucifix is behind [him]." The joke is that Deacon flinches while checking. Later on, when the Vampire Hunter accidentally kills Petyr, he is shown having a necklace with a crucifix which causes Deacon to freak out while Vladislav attempts to cover it.
    • The intro also states each member of the camera crew is wearing a crucifix to keep themselves safe from vampires. Unfortunately for one of the crew members, this protection does not extend to werewolves.
  • Hufflepuff House: Witches, zombies, banshees and other supernatural groups besides the vampires and werewolves are mentioned and glimpsed.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Lampshaded by Nick when the other vampires criticize him for using his powers in public:
    Deacon: The neighbours can see you flying around the house. You want to draw attention to the house, hmm?
    Nick: You've got a whole documentary crew following you around!
  • I Am Not Shazam: invoked Nick refers to himself as "Twilight, the main guy in Twilight" when trying to use his vampirism to pick up girls.
  • I Hate You, Vampire Dad:
    • Inverted, Deacon describes the horrific fashion in which he was turned, having been carried off by a winged monster into a creepy castle, fed upon to the verge of death, forced to drink said monster's foul vampire blood... only to point off-camera and say that he and Petyr have been friends ever since.
    • For his part, Nick seems to have been on similarly good terms with Petyr, talking to him about his frustration that everyone likes Stu more than him, and even managing to convince him not to eat Stu.
  • I'll Kill You!: Line said by Deacon to Nick after he learned that the latter led the Vampire Hunter into the house. Nick's response? "I'm already dead!"
  • I'll Be in My Bunk: Implied. A scene shows Viago entering his coffin with the photo of the woman he loved decades ago. After a few seconds, the coffin's lid starts to tremble suspiciously.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: When Stu stabs a vampire at the Masquerade.
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: Deacon straight-facedly tells us that "When you become a vampire, you become... very sexy". It's up to the audience to judge how much these particular vampires live up to the hype.
  • The Internet Is for Porn: While they do use the internet for other stuff like video of sunrises, they also google videos of virgins and Vladislav is heard commenting, "I don't think she's a virgin if she's doing that."
  • Invited as Dinner: The vampires do this to Nick and his friend, and are implied to have done it to many more people when they want virgin blood. Played for Laughs, and then for a ridiculous amount of gore.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Viago says he wanted to kill Catherine's new husband and drain him of blood, but didn't when he saw how happy she was, and almost invokes the trope verbatim.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: All the main vampires shown in the movie can hypnotize humans. The effects can range from controlling their actions, putting them in a trance, blocking out their senses, or something as complicated as equipping them with a Weirdness Censor.
    • A prime example unfolds when two police investigators come knocking. Viago hypnotises them to see nothing out of the ordinary, so they notice fairly ordinary problems in the house (i.e. the lack of smoke alarms) but fail to notice Petyr's burned corpse, and assume the dead vampire hunter is just asleep.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: In keeping with the documentary style, the illustrations of monsters and bats shown throughout typically have this.
  • Kill Steal: Petyr nabs a fleeing victim before Vlad, Viago and Deacon can catch him. Their reaction is accordingly annoyed.
  • Laugh with Me!: During the credits, there's a scene in which the alpha male of the werewolves gloats that the others always laugh at his jokes and if they don't, he makes sure they do. One of the werewolves laughs out of turn and is immediately scolded and warned to pay attention.
  • Long Last Look: After being expelled from the house, Nick takes a long last look around the yard before leaving.
  • The Masquerade: The vampires need to keep their existence a secret. So when Nick goes around blabbing about his vampirism to everyone, they get very pissed.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Viago's former love was a young woman when they met (Viago himself being closer to 400), and eventually is turned into a vampire so they can finally be together, despite being ninety-six.
  • Missing Reflection: Played for Laughs when the vampires have to help each other get dressed before going out on the town because their lack of reflections means they can't see what their own outfits look like.
  • Mistaken for Gay: A teenager in the streets calls the main characters "homos" because of their campy clothing.
    • One of the werewolves also calls Viago "count Fagula", again for his interesting fashion sense, though it is unclear if he actually thought Viago was gay or if he was just making fun of him.
  • Mockumentary: The movie's style.
  • Mundane Utility: We see Vlad floating in mid-air to get to those difficult-to-reach spots while dusting the house.
  • Must Be Invited: This makes it very awkward for the guys when they're trying to get into nightclubs.
    • Vladislav tries to circumvent this limitation when hunting by hypnotizing people alone inside their homes, but has limited success since their gaze is typically focused on the television.
  • Nerds Are Virgins: Stu describing his career at the vampire masquerade makes them come to this conclusion.
    Stu: Hi, my name is Stu. I'm a software analyst. I work for a geographic information systems company.
    Beast: Sorry, what is it?
    Stu: I work for a company that does, um... basically we take like, business requirements from organizations and we, um... analyze those requirements and then we build software to fit those requirements.
    Beast: He is a virgin!
  • Number of the Beast: The Unholy Masquerade is held on the 6 of June at 6 p.m.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're vampires plagued with everyday problems and prone to petty arguments over chores and rent.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The pack of lycanthropes we see have heightened senses and some slightly feral habits in human form, but only assume full, out-of-control Man-Beast form during the full moon. They do have an Alpha Male they look to for leadership and guidance, who like Viago, is usually more Affably Evil in keeping a bunch of wild punks on a short leash, and asks them to refrain from swearing to keep them from getting angrier and transforming. They're also big believers in "fur is murder".
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The "old" ones are pretty eloquent and polite, while the new ones' vocabulary are dominated by groans and moans.
  • Pædo Hunt: At one point in their nightly club crawl, the trio stops and talk to a pair of prepubescent girls. Turns out they're fellow vampires who were turned when they were very young, and use their overly youthful appearance to lure in and feed on pedophiles.
  • Pivotal Wake Up: The movie starts with one. Since the movie is a parody and the vampire in question is Affably Evil, the levitation is sheepish and silly.
  • The Renfield:
    • The long-suffering Jackie is Deacon's "familiar", taking care of the flatmates' affairs in order to — eventually — be turned into a vampire. It becomes increasingly clear Deacon has no plans to ever live up to his end of the deal, and he's very annoyed when Nick sires her instead.
    • Viago also had a minion whom he got to ship him to New Zealand in order to go after his love, Katherine — but unfortunately said minion got the postage wrong...
  • Running Gag: Deacon's mispronunciation of Spaghetti as "Bisgetti."
  • Shout-Out: The film is loaded with references to most of the major vampire films of the last century. There are quite many references to Interview with the Vampire, 90's Dracula and The Lost Boys, since according to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement these were their favourite vampire movies.
    • The film starts with a "rising out of the coffin" scene a la Nosferatu, and Petyr Looks Like Orlok.
    • Each of the central characters mimic staple vampire films: Petyr is Nosferatu, Deacon is 30's Dracula, Vladislav is 90's Dracula, Viago is Interview with the Vampire, and Nick is Twilight - Nick even refers to himself as Twilight a few times, much to the annoyance of Deacon.
    • A few scenes resemble Bram Stoker's Dracula. Vladislav's threesome with vampire women on the сeiling is a call-out to a similar scene in the movie in Dracula's castle, where vampire brides attack Harker and one of them ends up on the wall. Vladislav has the extreme widow's peak from Bram Stoker's Dracula, with a lot of Classical Movie Vampire mixed in. Vladislav also calls himself "Vlad The Poker", a call-out to Dracula being Vlad The Impaler, concept which Bram Stoker's Dracula popularized. Nick vomiting huge gouts of blood for a comically long time after eating a single chip strongly resembles the staking of Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula, which itself was parodied in Mel Brooks's Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and more directly Udo Kier's Dracula vomiting-out a non-virgin's blood in the Andy Warhol-produced Blood for Dracula. Jemaine Clement said in interviews that he based Vladislav on Dracula as played by Gary Oldman.
    • There's also the practical joke that the vampires play on their victims where they hypnotize them into thinking the spaghetti they're eating is worms, which they outright admit they stole from The Lost Boys.
    • Viago and Nick hold up a cut lemon and a piece of cloth to imitate Pac-Man in the mirror since they have no reflections.
    • The tag line on the posters is "Some interviews with some vampires."
    • Viago previously attended the Unholy Masquerade as Whoopi Goldberg's character from Sister Act, and Deacon insists his newest outfit choice of Blade is inappropriate.
    • The Hallway Fight between Nick and Deacon goes up the walls and across the ceiling, which seems to be a parody of an identical gravity-defying hallway fight in Inception.
    • Stu amazes the vampires by showing them footage of the sunrise, something none of them have seen in centuries—Interview with the Vampire again, and also the TV movie that inspired Forever Knight.
    • Nick hovering outside of the window is reminiscent of the famous scene from 'Salem's Lot.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • The film pairs Nick's projectile blood vomiting with, of all things, El Condor Pasa.
  • Staircase Tumble: Happens to Nick when he flees the vampires during the Invited as Dinner night.
  • The Stinger: A closeup shot of Deacon, who attempts to trance the audience into forgetting what they saw in the movie.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: After Stu's apparent death and a monologue from Deacon on the sorrow of watching all one's friends age and die as one lives on forever, it looks like the movie will end on a down note... but then it turns out, Stu wasn't killed by werewolves, just turned and accepted into the pack! And to top things off, Viago reunites with and turns his true love, Katherine.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The film's humor primarily runs on this trope. Almost every joke boils down to "how does this regular everyday activity work when you live by vampire rules?"
    • When you don't have a reflection and are increasingly out of touch with modern times, it can be quite hard to dress stylishly for a night out on the town. It doesn't help if your fashion sense is stuck in the era when you were turned. And it especially doesn't help when you have to beg a bouncer to invite you in.
    • After countless victims spilling blood over their house, Viago learns to put towels and newspaper down before going for the kill (and insists that his flatmates do the same). And hitting the main artery on the neck makes things very messy.
    • Also Nick telling a whole bunch of people he's a vampire leads to a vampire hunter tracking down the flat and killing Petyr by dumb luck.
    • One of the cameramen keeps up with the fleeing vampires when the werewolves start to transform, while the other one sticks around to get footage of their transformations. The one who sticks around gets mauled to death.
  • Tainted Veins: Nick shows them during his weeks of transformation to a vampire.
  • Tears of Blood: Nick cries blood during his time of transformation into a vampire.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Fittingly, "Bad Boy" Deacon was a Nazi Vampire. He doesn't even treat it as an Old Shame. Of course, this isn't that much of an alternate continuity, so when the Third Reich fell, and the Allies' paranormal unit captured him, he fled or was deported out of Europe.
  • Torture Cellar: Vlad has one which he used when he was in a bad place.
  • Turn Off the Camera: Vlad tells the cameraman to turn off after Petyr dies in the fire.
  • Undead Child: The gang knows two vampire girls whose main feeding strategy seems to be ambushing pedophiles.
  • Vampire Hunter: Newly-turned vampire Nick keeps revealing the fact that he's a vampire to strangers, one of whom claims to be a vampire hunter. It turns out he wasn't lying — he really is a vampire hunter and indirectly causes the death of Petyr, an ancient vampire who was also one of Nick's flatmates.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Implied. At the beginning, when Viago is waking the others up for the flat meeting, he opens Vladislav's door to find him in the middle of an orgy with several women.
  • Vampires Own Nightclubs: Parodied and deconstructed. There is a vampire-owned nightclub that the main cast frequents, but it's not very good and never attracts a crowd. Because the vampires are unable to get into a real nightclub without an explicit invitation from the staff, they have no idea what they're actually like.
  • Vampires Sleep in Coffins: The vampire roommates sleeping in coffins, with the 8000-year-old vampire Petyr sleeping in a stone coffin. One scene has Viago place a picture of a woman he loved years ago inside his coffin, and then the coffin lid shakes violently, implying that Viago is "busy".
  • Vampire Vords: Deliberately invoked with Vladislav, Deacon, and Viago.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Averted. Though they apparently can feed on animals (with Viago feeding Petyr a live chicken one morning) they all seem to only feed on people. Hilariously, Nick talks to Petyr about not turning Stu, because since he's an actual vegetarian it would just be awful for him and anyone around.
  • Villains Out Shopping: The whole movie is this. When the vampires aren't out stalking prey, they're arguing over who does what chores at home, trying to club and barhop (with limited success), or learning about modern-day technology.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Vampires prefer virgin meals. It's not a requirement, it's just a taste most of them share.
    Vladislav: I think of it like this. If you're going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew nobody had fucked it.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After vampire Nick eats a chip, he violently vomits blood in full view of the camera.
  • Warm Bloodbags Are Everywhere: Nick states he's very, very tempted to eat Stu. But he won't, even though he does smell delicious. Because they're best mates, and best mates don't eat each other. With Stu sitting right beside him.
  • Weakened by the Light: Petyr dies by getting exposed to sunlight.
  • Werewolves Are Dogs: When the vampires cross paths with the werewolf pack, the rival groups trade insults and belittle each other. As an act of mockery, Deacon mimes throwing a stick... and one of the werewolves runs off to go look for it, much to their pack leader's annoyance.
Angus: No, don't, don't go for it! It's not real!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Its never revealed what happened to Phillip, although it's unlikely that Viago would have bothered to go back and turn him.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Viago's given age is about a century too old for an "18th-century dandy".
  • Zombie Gait: The older zombie at the party is tired of this trope.


Video Example(s):


What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows is a Black Comedy Horror Mockumentary which follows three colorful, but lovable vampire flatmates: Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav, in their struggles to fit into modern-day Wellington society. When their eight-thousand-year-old extra flatmate Petyr (pronounced "Peter") attacks and turns twenty-something hipster Nick into a vampire, the guys must teach him the ropes of vampirism and guide him through his newfound eternal life. In turn, they are forced to learn a thing or two about modern society including technology, the Internet, and proper clubbing.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / Mockumentary

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