A large part of what made the original What We Do In The Shadows film so special was it’s strange and unique sense of realism. Yes, it’s a film about vampire housemates that includes a scene with some local werewolves— but the small budget, largely improvised dialogue and a cast made up of the filmmakers’ friends lends it a confident feeling of local-ness. Now, obviously, through adapting it into an American TV show with a much bigger budget it would inevitably lose some of what made the film special, but the show purposefully departs from the film in a big way. Now in it’s second season (and just renewed for a third), the What We Do In The Shadows stands alone; with it’s own intricately painted and original characters, ever-expanding world and a creative use of special effects and mockumentary style, it is leaving its own footprint in the vampire canon.
The greatness of the second season is really mounted on the talents of both it’s leading and guest actors. The three main vampires, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Matt Berry), emit a vampiric sense of being out of place and disconnected to the area they’ve been living in for lifetimes. This is exaggerated by those three being the only British actors in the main cast and they all bring their own individual comedy style to their roles, which enhances the idiosyncrasies of characters born in different corners of the world hundreds of years ago. Some episodes focus more on individuals and we learn a lot about them as the show grows the mythology around them in more comedic and eccentric ways. This season also proves that the genius idea of an energy vampire (Colin Robinson played by Mark Proksch) isn’t just a one-trick pony joke that they’ve stretched out too far, which it very easily could have been in the hands of less creative writers.
Harvey Guillen feels like a guiding force for the viewers this season as the awkward and increasingly unhappy Guillermo, the human familiar to Nandor. As last season ended on the reveal that he is a descendant of vampire hunter Van Helsing, this is a focus of some of the early episodes and threaded throughout the whole season. This obviously causes a dramatic inner conflict for Guillermo that is shown to be taking a great toll on him, but naturally allows for numerous comedic, and increasingly outlandish situations.
These outlandish situations don’t stop at just Guillermo’s door, season two dives head first into all the possibilities of a comedy set in a world where witches, zombies, ghosts and trolls all exist. Compared to last season, these plots and different creatures are introduced and explored with a quickening pace but the show manages not to lose sight of the central relationships. These supernatural and absurd plots are heightened by the incredible guest stars —most notably Benedict Wong, Mark Hamill and Lucy Punch— that seem remarkably at home in this world.
Some of these story lines are ridiculous. Really, really absurd. And this is exacerbated by the three main vampires’ frustrating lack of common sense that leads to misunderstandings in classic sitcom style. All of the most absurd aspects are grounded by the comedy, like Benedict Wong’s necromancer Wallace who is described by Laszlo as a “shyster… obsessed with the up-sell” who cons them out of $300 and is scatting and texting while attempting to reanimate a dead character. This scene had moments that would be right at home in a horror film – a theme that runs throughout the series which includes a macabre talking doll and a zombie climbing the wall – but it never takes itself at all seriously. The scenes can move from a moment of pure supernatural horror and drama to sitcom beats with incredible ease. Like the frantic and scary scene of a group of vampire hunters running through a house full of vampires, that is punctured with slapstick humour, video phone footage and scored by an 80s pop song.
It also remarkably stays loyal to the mockumentary format and creatively utilises both its limitations and benefits, all while capturing elements of Gothic and supernatural horror, un-distracting special effects and comedy that would satisfy both fans and newcomers. The season manages to successfully maintain its unique comedic tone, specific to this world and these characters, that welds genres, forms and comedic styles with incredible ease. It also approaches vampire mythology with a steady hand and somehow, while parodying it, also leaves its own distinctive mark.
What We Do in the Shadows S1 & 2 is now available to stream in full on BBC iPlayer
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.