Chris Connor on the What We Do in the Shadows cinematic universe…
When What We Do in the Shadows premiered in 2014, Taika Waititi was several years away from becoming the name he is today and Jemaine Clement’s talents as shown on Flight of the Conchords may well have slipped under the radar of many. In the years that have followed Waititi in particular has gone on to greatness directing the hugely successful blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok and winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit.
The initial film version of What We Do in the Shadows was a mockumentary following a group of vampires including Waititi’s Viago and Clement’s Vladislav in Wellington, New Zealand. It was a modest success making $7 million but in the years that have followed its release it has become something of a cult film spawning a US TV spin off with the same name, and the New Zealand spinoff Wellington Paranormal, focusing on other supernatural happenings in the city.
The Guardian gave the original film a five-star review, labelling it as the best comedy of 2014. There were glowing reviews from many other outlets and the warm feeling towards the film has certainly not dipped over the years. Reviews for both spin offs have been equally glowing. It is to Waititi and Clement’s credit that the universe they created has proved so enduring and enticing for audiences and critics alike.
On the face of it this may seem like a wholly odd project to expand into a cinematic universe but it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon with all three seasons of Wellington Paranormal finally available in the UK and a third season of the US What We Do in the Shadows in the works. There is also talk of a long gestating film spinoff We’re Wolves which would follow the group of Werewolves encountered in the movie.
One of the reasons the franchise works so well is that each project can stand apart from the wider universe, proving distinct entities. While there are cameos and call backs between the projects these are often fleeting in nature and you could watch one of the shows without having seen the original film. The humour and wit of Waititi and Clement shines through especially in the original film and it is perhaps its sheer originality and fly on the wall nature that has seen it fare so well with audiences.
The shows have captured much of what made the film work, maintaining the brand of humour but emboldening it with their own distinctive hallmarks, Wellington Paranormal acting more as a police procedural and What We Do in the Shadows maximising its US setting and predominantly British cast led by the irrepressible Matt Berry of The IT Crowd and Toast of London fame.
Wellington Paranormal benefits from being able to expand its scope behind just vampires so it doesn’t feel like a re-tread of the film. We encounter a whole host of paranormal happenings including ghosts, sea monsters, witches and Werewolves. The performances of Mike Minogue, Karen O’Leary and Maaka Pohatu keep the laughs coming and help to sell the absurd premise of the show and the mannerisms of its leads. This has helped expand the universe and make the show distinct, whereas one of the criticisms labelled by some at the show of What We Do in the Shadows is that it can hew too close to its film source material.
However, What We Do in the Shadows the series brilliantly utilises its core leads especially Berry and the hilarious Natasia Demetriou; in addition there are a host of notable guest stars including Star Wars legend Mark Hamill (showing off a far more comedic side), Tilda Swinton, Dave Bautista and Benedict Wong.
While its original film is now close to seven years old the wider universe of What We Do in the Shadows has lost none of its bite with both its spin offs getting at least three seasons so far. With Wellington Paranormal now available in the UK and US, fans of the other parts of the franchise can feast on the complete offerings from the minds of Waititi and Clement as the universe continues to expand and we can only hope both series run for a number of years to come and perhaps spawn further spin offs. Whether or not the quality level to date can be maintained but judging by the record so far we can expect vampiric and paranormal laughs a plenty still to come.
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