Dead & Beautiful (2021): Well, It’s Certainly Dead
Title: Dead & Beautiful
First Non-Festival Release: October 21, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: David Verbeek
Writer: David Verbeek, Hugh Travers
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Starring: Aviis Zhong, Gijs Blom, Yen Tsao
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A group of young, billionaire socialites spend their days fighting boredom by seeking out extreme and dangerous adventures. On their quest to feel alive, they find themselves hiking in the woods for a spiritual ceremony. When they wake up the next morning, they discover fangs protruding from their mouths and the man who charged with performing the ritual dead with apparent puncture wounds. They quickly surmise that they have been transformed into vampires overnight. Adjusting to their new life as vampires, the crew must decide how to take this new challenge in life in stride.
Dead & Beautiful drives a stake into an initially compelling concept by implementing ill-advised plot devices.
Starting off rather purposeful, Dead & Beautiful veers into its head-tilting climax ruining much of the goodwill it builds. The writers seem more concerned with adding twists to the story in hopes that it adds both entertainment and dimension while accomplishing neither. Once a big revelation happens, the film takes a noticeable turn for the worst, and it somehow one-ups itself in a more confounding way. This also counteracts some moments we have throughout the film that don’t make sense when looking back. To say more would be a spoiler but it feels cheap after watching.
The cast of bored billionaires doesn’t quite capture any sparks either, lacking in development and differentiation. Largely indistinguishable, they’re all various shades of cool, disconnected, and vindictive. It is plausible given their upbringing in extreme wealth in competitive social circles, but it doesn’t make them particularly interesting either. Thankfully, everyone does fine in their roles, with Aviis Zhong doing the most to give her character a slight beguiling charm.
The most obvious metaphor for the film is that the rich are lifeless and bloodthirsty, much like a vampire. Dead & Beautiful goes deeper to explain that the lives of these exorbitantly wealthy young adults may be seeped in the material riches of the world but are starving for meaning and life underneath. Casual cruelty is all too necessary to carry out elaborate and hurtful schemes on one another. It’s an interesting conceit but it doesn’t seem fleshed out by the time the film concludes.
Dead & Beautiful feels as lifeless as the protagonists, which seems purposeful in a good way. Commentary doesn’t end up matching the story in the end, but it makes for some interesting ideas to ponder. The film would have been stronger overall had certain choices not been made, both in terms of entertainment and its message. It’s deadpan in its delivery with only a few dry pinches of comedy to make up for the lack of engagement.
What Dead & Beautiful lacks in substance it attempts to makes up for in style. It’s a very pretty looking film. One of the best scenes involves a tense conversation at the top of a tower that is filmed in a way that keeps everything out of focus except the characters. The audience knows the fall is steep and with every push and pull of the two, it’s hard not to clench your wrists in anticipation. I know I’m in the minority on this one as well, but I love how the film introduces each character with a title card showcasing their wealth. It seems gaudy and in-your-face, but that thematically makes perfect sense while also adding some personality to the film. Cinematography and editing saves Dead & Beautiful from being a truly painful experience.
Whatever goodwill built in the first act fizzles into disinterest at best and incredulousness at worst by the time the film ends. Dead & Beautiful asks its audience to accept a series of increasingly bizarre plot points strung together by exposition dumps and flashy lighting. It’s a shame that this stylistic vampiric thriller doesn’t live up to the potential of its premise. Its on-the-nose metaphor aside, it’s as empty and unfilled as the members of the young ruling class claim to be. Burning both in the sunlight and moonlight, it’s best to let the ashes get swept away before you choose to check this disappointment out.
Overall Score? 4.5/10