“You’ve got really warm hands, Stu. Are you a demon?”
– “No, I’m a software analyst.”


What We Do in the Shadows is a very popular, extremely clever television show that just finished up its third season on FXX (and Hulu, I think?). It’s a workplace-style sitcom, very much in the documentary vein of The Office or Reno 911. The characters don’t really have jobs per se, other than Guillermo the familiar/bodyguard. But as they are both idly wealthy and vampires, they tend to spend most of their time lounging around the same location. So like your Offices and Renos, there is a lot of drama to be mined from a disparate group of people forced to share the same space daily. The show is great: go watch it.

We’ve gotten that out of the way, because I’m not here to talk too much about the show, despite my long-time love of Matt Berry’s excellent choices in comedy . Today we are discussing the 2014 film, whose dry humor and absurd mix of horror and comedy paved the way for the television show. To use a common twitter meme, Vladislov the Poker walked so that Nandor the Relentless could fly.

I’ve talked briefly about This Is Spinal Tap and Christopher Guest’s films like A Mighty Wind. The mockumentary is a tried-and-true comedy structure, and among my favorites when employed well. The structure allows one to inject moments of interiority via interviews/confessionals to the camera. This can be a crutch, as you don’t have to write a scene where the emotional payoff is delivered when you can just do a smash-cut to an eyeroll. But the meta nature of having the characters interact with the filmmakers does give some freedom from the need to have an audience cipher (the camera is the audience cipher in a mockumentary).

The biggest difference between the TV show and the movie is the pacing. The show presents a premise and then resolves it over the next 25–35 minutes. The show packs a lot of sight gags and callbacks into that runtime, but by its nature it has to feel a little rushed : even the slower scenes are tied to the plot for the week and don’t get much time to be idle, and jokes are more throwaway when there are a dozen deadlines to meet. The film, meanwhile, sits in the life of the vampires for long scenes and feels like only the best bits made it onto the screen. There is far more digression and deliberate awkward silence. Even when the vampires are goal-oriented, such as for a night on the town or the Unholy Masquerade, it feels like watching real beings in real moments. Part of this sameness, this awkwardness, this routine is intentional on the part of the filmmakers. You see, the film has a secret weapon, a gamble that, had it not worked, would have derailed the film. This monotony is established so that it can be shaken up with three tiny letters:

S. T. U.


Stu the human. Stu the mate. Stu the guy who like french fries and beer. Stu’s entrance into the film is almost certainly a meta-joke by the writers, as fresh blood takes on an additional meaning when we’re talking about centuries-old beings. The character of Stu is an IT specialist played by real-life non-actor and IT specialist (and friend of the filmmakers) Stu Rutherford. And his entrance is courtesy of vampire neophyte Nick, who is a bit of a knob with his flaunting of vampire social conventions. The film is setting us up. We are meant to see Stu as a quick meal and nothing more, as his entire being screams red-shirt. But in a film full of very loud performances, his cherubic looks and extremely mellow energy are like a road flare on the edge of a highway at 4am. He could not stick out more if he were painted neon yellow.

And Stu doesn’t get exsanguinated.

Instead, the vampires take an immediate shine to Stu, whose basic technology skills and good-guy demeanor give their lives a much-needed update. This is the shot in the arm that their humdrum lives have needed. Through the red-faced twentysomething, they learn about the internet, digital cameras, online dating, and more. They can’t get enough of Stu’s normcore life and how much it contrasts with how they’ve been living for centuries. Even after Nick’s behavior results in his banishment from the house, they make a point of saying that Stu is still welcome. Of course he is: this is the best they’ve felt in years.

Not everyone loves Stu equally.  This film’s familiar is Jackie, who, like Guillermo de la Cruz of the television show, is a long-suffering employee who has been denied the gift of vampirism in the name of that routine and sameness that afflicted their lives before Stu arrived. Jackie is justified in her anger at being relegated in favor of the new guy. (Jackie getting her fangs is the kind of narrative payoff that the TV show can’t allow itself, with its third season in the books and a fourth already confirmed. The show may shake up its central premise but it can’t even leave an energy vampire dead for more than a single episode before a sluglike rebirth ends the tension.)

At the cusp of 40, I’m already deeply aware of how hard it is to make new friends, especially after moves to new cities and other life changes. And then there is the additional difficulty of keeping friends, as life is nothing if not a constant trend toward entropy, so other people move on to new opportunities even once you’ve found yourself some stability. There is a universality about meeting a Stu. The film is hilarious and weird, but that emotional core is what elevates it. Because that injection of newness, that disruption of routine, it is a powerful feeling. As much as our lizard brains crave stability and set schedules and the safety of well-trod paths, human consciousness desires connectivity and fresh blood. We see this in people who are rebuilding themselves after a long-term relationship has ended. We may joke about changes in their wardrobe or new hobbies that they’ve picked up (especially if they’ve met someone younger or their clothing/activities/haircut/etc. get a really obvious shakeup). But I think that the jokes are us rationalizing our envy. That person was shaken from their routine and they are being reborn, even if only slightly.

I’m not advocating leaving one’s significant other or quitting one’s job on impulse. But I have become obsessed with the idea of how we establish routines, both good and bad, and how disruption can break those routines in positive ways. We don’t always have to eat the same takeout while watching the same home renovation shows. I quit my long-time job in May and decided to pursue a new college degree. This felt like a huge gamble as we were discussing it. It is a huge gamble. But I was blessed to be in a position in which it was possible to make the change. And I think about this a lot, especially at times like this when I’m writing instead of sleeping. And frankly, I’m happy as hell that I was able to be reborn in this way. The last six months have been a series of reevaluations, the shedding of routines, and small improvements (from bad to ok, from ok to good, from good to great). The next year, let alone the next decade, is now completely unknown. And this is terrifying, but it is also exhilarating. I don’t know yet what I’ll do to make money, but I will no longer be moving around quotation marks and passively participating in a job that ran directly against my morality.

Even small changes to routine can have huge effects on a long-enough timeline. One doesn’t have to be undead to start something new.


Other 2014 candidates: Ned Rifle; Snowpiercer; Inherent Vice; Kingsmen: The Secret Service; The Interview; The Monkey King


Seriously, and this is excluding his excellent songwriting, Matt Berry has been involved in:

    • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
    • The Mighty Boosh
    • The IT Crowd
    • Snuffbox
    • What We Do in the Shadows
    • Toast of London


I turn 40 in December. To commemorate the milestone, I’m writing 40 short biographical essays pertaining to a movie per year of my life.