By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Rating: NR, Grade: B+

Do the undead truly love contemporary life? This certainly seems to be a cultural moment for creatures of the night. Zombies (“The Walking Dead” and its upcoming spinoff series), werewolves (“Teen Wolf”) and vampires (“The Vampire Diaries”) enjoy the small screen spotlight and there are all manner of big screen adaptations and variations on their tales – “Twilight” looms largest with its incorporation of both werewolves and vampires (although the “Underworld” action franchise mined similar territory). But in these cases, the lifestyles of the dead-and-loving-it types comes across as too good to be true.

Fortunately, a thrill-seeking documentary crew in New Zealand dares to go inside, to pull back the curtain of the night on the nightly routines, the centuries-long ongoing experiences of a flat of vampires. While we never get the chance to see these invisible adventurous truth seekers, they inform us up front on their efforts to protect themselves from the nigh-uncontrollable urges of their subjects. What emerges though is just how these vampires are able to not only tamp down their desire for the human blood of the filmmakers, but also maintain their shadowy existence in a modern world that is very familiar with their modus operandi.

Viago (Taika Waititi) is the dandy that handles the reins of this undead household, setting up a chore wheel to keep their flat neat and tidy, and overseeing the nightly waking cycles for the house. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the relative newbie of the bunch, the upstart who is just a little over a century old and still eager to make his mark. Vladislav (Jermaine Clement) has the old school reputation of being the vampire with a known fetish – he liked to poke and prod his victims back in the day and was particularly skilled at hypnotizing humans until he ran afoul of a legendary vampire dubbed “The Beast.” Of course, no vampire house could ever be complete without a true ancient one and the New Zealand house has Petyr (Ben Fransham) who is so old he has given up on language and hygiene entirely, which means Viago definitely has his work cut out for him.

How do you keep geysers of blood from staining every available surface during a major feast? And who is going to assist the vampires in scouting for suitable prey? But the real feat of this investigation is the heartwarming look into the private lives of the vampires, especially Viago who traveled to New Zealand for love, but was thwarted when the postage on his coffin was mixed up, delaying Viago’s arrival so long that his intended ended up marrying a mortal, leaving Viago, a most honorable vampire, no choice but to step aside and watch as she grew old.

Okay, let me slow down for a moment to reveal a not so subtle secret about “What We Do in the Shadows,” because thus far, this piece might have convinced readers that the movie is a serious-minded effort. That is most definitely not the case at all. Writing and directing partners Clement and Waititi have their tongues planted so far in their cheeks, the ends have pierced the flesh and are dancing so far out of their faces that they look like they have extra mouths – all the better to allow for more laughs.

There are a few choice moments when the comic duo – that began working together comedy troupes in college (around the same time Clement met Bret McKenzie and formed the musical-comedy act Flight of the Conchords) – take stabs at the “Twilight” juggernauts, but the real fun reveals itself in the incisive bits that playfully jab the eternal myths of vampires, like the notion that vampires, thanks to centuries of experience would be exceptional at everything (think Lestat and the vampire community in Anne Rice’s books). Viago and this crew might have had several lifetimes to practice and perfect a variety of skills and talents, but they have fallen woefully short of developing expertise at anything other than amusing anyone who might have crossed their paths.

“What We Do in the Shadows” embraces the sketch comedy model of Saturday Night Live, but succeeds because it crafts, despite a rough and ragged looseness, a cohesive long-form story that continues to elicit laughs while also illustrating how this undead family hasn’t lost any of that fumbling sense of life they once had.