I recently had the pleasure of watching the movie What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary about four vampires who live together in a flat in New Zealand. The mockumentary spoofs a lot of classic vampire stories that have become cliché over the past several years. The best part about this movie is it takes normal mundane things and applies it to vampires. The four vampires have house meetings, argue over who is supposed to do the dishes, and struggle with getting dressed when they can’t see their own reflection.
The movie begins by explaining that a documentary film crew was given permission to follow around four vampires. We are then introduced to Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr. Viago, Vladislav, and Deacon have all maintained their human appearances, but Petyr, who is 8,000 years old, looks more like the vampire from Nosferatu and acts more animalistic than the others. We see the vampires deal with being centuries old and trying to adapt to modern day life. Each night the three go out (Petyr doesn’t leave the house anymore) to find people to feed on. They also often clash with a group of werewolves who dislike swearing. The three attempt to get into clubs, but struggle with the fact that they need to be invited in by the bouncer or else they won’t be able to enter.
This is definitely one of the best vampire spoofs that I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. However, the movie is very much focused on men and male characters with very little attention given to the female characters. When the female characters are present, they critique the tropes that are more typical of vampire stories, but these critiques are so brief that they’re sadly not very effective.
Because the vampires cannot leave their flat during the day and struggle finding people to feed on at night, Deacon gets the help of a human servant—or familiar—named Jackie. Jackie serves Deacon as her master with the promise that he will one day turn her into a vampire. Jackie runs errands for the vampires, like taking their blood-stained clothing to the dry cleaners and finding humans for the vampires to feed on.
Poor Jackie is very much taken advantage of by the vampires and is constantly reminding Deacon that she has been serving him for a while and he still hasn’t turned her, and she wants to be turned before she becomes too old. As the movie progresses we are left feeling like Deacon and the others never had any intention of turning Jackie when we meet past familiars that the vampires simply abandoned without ever fulfilling their promise to make them a vampire. Things come to a head when Jackie brings a man named Nick for the vampires to feed on. However, Petyr bites Nick and ends up turning him into a vampire. We see Jackie complain about how being a vampire is just a big boys club and that if she were male she would have been made a vampire years ago.
This is a an interesting critique of vampire stories, as most of the most popular and well-known vampires in fiction are men. Jackie’s critique of the vampires can be viewed as a critique of the genre in general, which shows powerful male figures preying on innocent human women. Jackie, however, takes matters into her own hands and asks Nick to bite her, making her a vampire. She then makes her husband her familiar, which he seems to agree to, though it’s never really made clear. We also see her telling her husband that she loves him, but that she is also his master. My problem with Jackie is we don’t really get to see too much of her, despite her being the most prominent female character. When Jackie is first introduced it is easy to assume that she is a desperate loner who wants to become a vampire, but later we find out that she is a wife and mother of two. Then after becoming a vampire she makes her husband her familiar so that their partnership is no longer equal. It certainly makes Jackie seem like an extremely selfish character, but all the characters are pretty selfish. Still, the problem here is that we don’t get to spend as much time with Jackie as we do the main male characters so we don’t get the same chance to sympathize with her as much.
Throughout the movie, we also hear about a character called The Beast who is painted as a fearsome monster-like creature who was so powerful that they were able to defeat Vladislav—who was once an extremely powerful vampire himself. We are often told that The Beast is Vladislav’s nemesis and supposedly some sort of terrible demon. However, when the vampires attend the Unholy Masquerade Ball, we meet The Beast, who is this year’s guest of honor. Surprisingly, she is actually a female vampire named Pauline. It’s discovered that Vladislav calls her The Beast because of their bad break-up and she simply refers to him as “asshole.” Vladislav is annoyed that Pauline was made the guest of honor over him and is generally considered more powerful than he is. The two clash when Pauline gets upset with the fact that Nick has brought his human friend Stu to the party, as well as the fact that there are camera crews filming them.
We assume Pauline is some ferocious creature only for it to be revealed that she is actually just a powerful vampire that Vladislav is still butthurt over. At the end of the movie the two get back together only to realize that they hate each other once again. Pauline is yet another female character who is mentioned a lot but we don’t get to see much, and she isn’t developed much outside of what we know of her because of Vladislav. However, it is nice to see a female character be portrayed as one of the most powerful vampires — far more capable than the male main characters — especially considering that powerful female vampires are a rarity in vampire stories. But again, the movie suffers by not giving her enough screen time.
The only other female character in the movie is Katherine, a human woman who was the love of Viago’s life. Viago followed her to New Zealand because his human familiar didn’t ship him in his coffin to the correct location. By the time he made it to Katherine, she was already married to a human man. Viago thought about killing her husband, but realized she was happy so he lets her go to live her life, though he never really gets over her. However, Viago still keeps tabs on Katherine, and eventually decides to approach her at her nursing home and, with her consent, makes her a vampire at ninety-six years old. Though Katherine looks elderly, Viago doesn’t seem to care and still views her as a young girl, considering that he is 379 years old. Katherine was happy to be reunited with Viago and starts adjusting to life as a vampire at ninety-six. The movie ends with them being happily together again. This spoofs many of the themes we see in movies like Twilight or TV shows like Buffy where vampires who are hundreds of years old fall in love with high schoolers. Instead we are treated to a vampire who falls in love with an adult Katherine and still wants to be with her even when she is an elderly woman.
Overall, the movie is great and will have you howling with laughter, while it plays with some of the classic cliche vampires stories that we have all grown to love and maybe hate in equal measure. But as much as I loved this movie, there are very few female characters and we barely get to see the female characters who are mentioned.There are some female vampires whose names are never mentioned, either, that I would have loved to know more about. For example, there is one female vampire we see feeding on an ex-boyfriend in the movie and two vampires who were bitten when they were little girls who enjoy luring perverts to their death. It would have also been interesting to see more of Jackie after she became a vampire, but we see very little of her after her transformation. I loved this movie, but there is a part of me that thinks it would have been better as a TV show. That way we could have gotten to know all the characters, not just the male characters, more. I would love to see more of this, so I would have no complaints if a TV show was ever made. As it stands, I did still very much enjoy the movie, but it would have been better if there had been more time given to the women in general.