DIRECTED BY: David Verbeek
STARRING: Aviis Zhong, Gijos Blom, Yen Tsao, Anechka Marchenko and Cheng-en Philip Juan
The film focuses on a group of young wealthy friends who after a night in the woods wake up with a startling discovery…each of them have grown a pair of fangs. Bewildered at first, the group realise that they feel stronger and more attractive than ever before. As they strain to make sense of their new situation, they lose themselves in a twisted game of taking their new skills to the streets. In this new kind of nightlife, with the limits of life, love and death greatly blurred, it dawns on the group that they can no longer trust each other.
Dead and Beautiful is written and directed by David Verbeek. Set in Taiwan, the film focuses on a group of five young and wealthy friends (Lulu Wong, Mason Van Der Bilt, Bin-Ray Lo, Anastasia Rublov and Alexander Tsai) who are gathered to attend the funeral of Bin-Ray as Mason returns from Harvard University…only for it revealed to be a ruse and the funeral gathering is fake. It’s part of a ritual that the group use to occupy their time from boredom and provide entertainment, as they each get their turn to do something that they want to do which the group most participate in, or pull a trick such as a fake funeral. As they enter a forest to camp the night as part of Anastasia’s turn, they encounter a mysterious shaman and each take his offering, only to pass out and when they come round, they find the shaman dead and that each of them have vampire-like fangs.
Luckily for the group being rich, they hide out in one of Alex’s fathers hotels as it’s currently under construction, trying to figure out what happened that night in the woods, and put to the test whether or not they are vampires at all by looking to go out into the city at night and find a suitable candidate to taste blood. The initial first half of the film shows promise with the premise, as we see how bored half the group feel about their existence, after all what can you really do for fun when you can have literally anything you want when you happen to be children of billionaires. That’s one of the few fresh takes that Verbeek’s film provides in presenting a vampire story in film, as the group test the lore of what they know about vampires through film, with Bin-Ray being initially weary of the sunshine coming up, to them actively looking for a blood sample to see if a taste will quench a thirst or expand their vampire-ness. While some seem reluctant to embrace their change, such as Mason, their transformation seems to have given one of them a license to embrace a darker side that the others haven’t seen before.
While there’s some humorous takes on vampire mythology here, such as Bin-Ray believing he can’t see his reflection at a 7-eleven until you catches it properly when he has a closer look. The film is directed well enough by Verbeek, with some lovely cinematography work by Jasper Wolf. While the film starts interesting enough, it did feel like it lost momentum for me when we reached the second half. A lot of time is spend with the group trying to figure out what they want to become with this change, there’s a sequence trying to give exposition to the audience in a conference style presentation that felt flat and the characters themselves you struggle to really care for any of them. It definitely feels like it’s going for a cult-following vibe with some of its imagery, with the way the group dresses going into the city at night wearing face masks, to the music that is used during the course of the films one hour and thirty-eight minute runtime. Your enjoyment will primarily come down to how you take the final act, as it goes a certain trajectory and for me it didn’t really click or feel earnest.
Dead & Beautiful has all the ingredients of gaining a cult following with some of its striking imagery and style, but for me it slowly fizzled out when it got to the second half of the film.