I don’t think it’s any stretch to call 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows director Taika Waititi’s breakout film. While he had been successful directing mostly television for years, he hadn’t reached mainstream American audiences until this and 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I had seen some of his previous work headed in, but still found this surprisingly delightful the first time—and it holds up now four years later.
A mockumentary about a film crew following around four vampire flat mates in New Zealand, what’s most surprising is how well it holds together. While classics of the mockumentary genre such as Best in Show and This Is Spinal Tap are widely heralded, the truth is that most tend to fall flat on their faces. It’s even worse when you consider the history of horror and comedy—two genres that don’t seem to mix well on the surface, and if the Scary Movie franchise is anything to go by, they certainly don’t even when you dig a bit deeper. So, four years later, why does the “werewolves, not swearwolves” line still prompt a giggle?
Unlike a lot of horror comedies, Shadows starts will solid jokes in most instances and layers the horror on top. The idea that one roommate is flattered when they tell him he’s charming, but a slob is relatable and funny before you get into the fact that they’re complimenting his ability to charm women back to the apartment to feed off them. Too often the joke in horror comedies is that the axe murderer is wearing a tutu or something equally ridiculous—but that’s not funny. It’s clever and enjoyable even to those who aren’t horror fans, and that’s a huge achievement in the genre.