Comedy isn’t just the hardest genre to create, it’s also the hardest to critique. How does one attempt to measure the immeasurable canvas of a personal sense of humor? In the end then, it is possible the only truly effective way to analyze the success of a comedy is wether it creates laughter and, if so, if that laughter is earned or if it is of the “fat man goes boom” variety. In the case of What We Do in the Shadows, the latest from the creative team of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, there is undeniable laughter. The question becomes, then, does the film and its story earn any sort of earnest laughter, or is it a sequence of gags with the hope that a few land with the audience?
Firstly, disregard any comparisons to “Spinal Tap” when watching What We Do in the Shadows. While the format and superficial set-up resemble that famous mockumentary, the differences are abrupt and numerous from that point forward. While Spinal Tap has sights on lampooning the music industry and the result rock-star ego, What We Do in the Shadows has very little interest in lampooning anything. The only real goal is to create a world of farce, and in this they are completely successful. So to view this film in the same scope as “Spinal Tap” is not only unfair to both films. It is a bit like comparing apples to oranges; or maybe oranges to blood oranges, it can be done but there really isn’t any point.
Secondly, What We Do in the Shadows is also best viewed in the vacuum of the world it presents on screen. To draw analogies to the artist’s previous work and/or comparisons to other vampiric comedies is to really lose sight of what makes What We Do in the Shadows so glorious, its reveling within its own ridiculously constructed narrative. Just sit back and enjoy the world of three vampires sharing a flat whilst a Nosferatu-like “house mother” hides in the basement.
The strength of What We Do in the Shadows is found in the performances, the resulting comedic timing, and the dialogue. When a line about eating virgins versus eating a sandwich lands so fully as it does here, one has to realize that the audience is in the hands of a group of comedic performers that excel in their craft. So to waste time in the larger cinematic context of this film is to lose the real strength of its running time. This film is a standalone piece of comedic work that not only lands the majority of its jokes, it also successfully tells a story that earns the film’s right to be so damn successful.