Somewhere in the metropolitan cityscape of Taiwan, a group of rich successors raised from a route of nepotism are lavishly celebrating. They come from the Van Der Bilts, Lo, Rublov, Tsai, and Wong families. As they continuously drink and quarrel in frivolous discourse, little do they know that their elite highlife is about to crumble down. In David Verbeek’s casually amusing Dead & Beautiful, the renowned filmmaker brings a brand new sort of vampire tale to the table. Concepts of power, authority, and even class-consciousness have all been somewhat explored previously in other individual vampire fables. This time around however, Verbeek tries something a little different with not just one, but ALL of the aforementioned themes.
In some ways, one could describe Dead & Beautiful as an anti-climatic vampire tale. A film driven by its muted drama and senseless actions, Verbeek provides some glimmers of social commentary within the lackadaisical narrative. It’s a story about the upper class slowly coming to terms with class consciousness, both in negative and positive manners. A film about an unnerving transformation of impurity in the face of greed — all being subliminally told through sporadic moments of random bloodlust. Dead & Beautiful may be muddled in what exactly it attempts to state, but at the very least there’s a working backbone at the core, within all of its vampire madness. If anything, the film should have been something more in line with a theme exploring the exploitation of the lower class; where the pre-existing concepts of bloodlust and implied cannibalistic psychopathy would have been far more effective.
Speaking of effectiveness, Verbeek surprisingly takes his script quite seriously. So seriously in fact, to the point where the film becomes incredibly self-indulgent and brooding in moments where levity is desperately needed. With written lines such as “vamps don’t vlog” and other social-media generation pandering dialogue, it’s shocking to see how straight-faced Dead & Beautiful portrayed its cast of campy characters. Making matters even more slightly concerning, the final act of the film is an underwritten mess. A third act that solely depends on messy twists and nonsensical narrative threads, the impact of all the aforementioned themes that have been previously re-worked and developed throughout the film are thrown out the window in favour of messy screenwriting.
In concept, Dead & Beautiful could have been the next major horror-satire. A film that comments on the self-indulgence of the upper class, without ever humanising or glorifying their acts of exploitation. But Verbeek unfortunately plays his material safe. There’s not much below the surface outside of what is being directly told to the viewer. It’s a disappointing work of genre emulation, that barely contains any memorable moments outside of the occasional scene of neon-lit synth-infused mayhem. For a film about vampire lore, Dead & Beautiful lacks a poignant bite of inspired horror commentary.
Dir: David Verbeek
Scr: David Verbeek
Cast: Gijs Blom, Aviis Zhong, Yen Tsao, Anechka Marchenko
DOP: Jasper Wolf
Runtime: 98 minutes
Dead & Beautiful premiered at this year’s historic Rotterdam Film Festival edition, as part of the Limelight program. Shudder will release the film in the coming months.