Dead & Beautiful is certainly one of the most appropriately named films I’ve seen this year. The night scenes of Taipei, the neon bathed club interiors as well as the half finished luxury hotel these uber rich twentysomethings use as a base are stunningly shot. Unfortunately the film is also quite dead, so lifeless and soulless that it feels like it should be about zombies rather than vampires.
Mason (Gijs Blom, The Forgotten Battle), who has just returned to Taipei from Harvard has joined Lulu (Aviis Zhong), Alex (Ten Tsao, Disturbed Souls on Campus) and Anastasia (Anna Marchenko, I WeirDO) for the funeral of their friend Bin-Ray (Philip Yuan). It turns out to be a prank, one of many they play to try to alleviate the boredom that comes from being born the children of billionaire parents.
For her contribution to their entertainment, Anastasia has arranged a trip for the group. A trek out into the jungle where they meet a strange shaman who, much to their delight offers them a strange psychoactive substance. When they wake up he’s dead, with puncture wounds in his neck. And they now have fangs. Are they really vampires? It looks like it, and it also looks like one of them has already drawn first blood.
Director David Verbeek (How to Describe a Cloud, Shanghai Trance) and co-writer Hugh Travers (Your Mother Should Know) have made Dead & Beautiful a genre film for people who binge-watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians. They actually expect us to give a shit about a bunch of absolute assholes because they come from extremely wealthy families. Their families’ net worth is even flashed on the screen to make sure we know just how wealthy.
And if that’s your thing you’ll probably love Dead & Beautiful. I found the leads just as obnoxious as poor assholes and found myself severely lacking in sympathy for their burden of boredom. And what do they do after they sprout fangs? Hang out in a hotel one of their fathers is having built, go to a strip club and whine some more. Eventually one of them kidnaps a hooker to see if drinking blood will actually have an effect on them.
Vampire films don’t have to be action filled to be interesting, it’s a genre that lends itself to drama and more personal themes. Theresa And Allison, Sunset on the River Styx, and Morbid Colors all manage to do it successfully. But, unlike Dead & Beautiful, they all have characters that are interesting and do a bit more than just whine and bicker with their friends.
Dead & Beautiful does try to give the audience a couple of twists in the last act, but they don’t work at all. The characters never develop or change, so the sudden reveals feel artificial, just dropped in for their own sake. Of course, if the characters did have some kind of a story arc, if their experiences had an effect on them, Dead & Beautiful would have been a different film. But they exit the film as vapid and unlikeable as they entered it.
Add in the film’s glacially slow pace and I have to wonder what Shudder was thinking when they decided to add Dead & Beautiful to their lineup. It’s too dull and pointless for those looking for a traditional vampire film. And it’s too vapid and poorly written for those wanting a more dramatic, arthouse film. There’s not even anything in the way of gore or nudity to draw in that audience.