Roughly halfway through David Verbeek’s genre-bending film, five gorgeous young adults strut through Taipei looking for some nocturnal entertainments. All wear matching black masks – a sartorial touch even more nondescript after the preceding year’s events in the real world. However, these are mysterious fashion accessories rather than protection from sickness – after all, they are vampires, and they will never fall ill.
DEAD & BEAUTIFUL sees these five friends turn into vampires after taking what they believe to be drugs from a possibly mythical forest tribe. This origin story might be underbaked, but it fuels the fundamental self-centeredness and hedonism that lead them to their fate in the first place. Each member of this group is heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune, and each of them takes “turns” planning wild weekends out that the next has to top. Becoming a legendary monster is the logical conclusion.
While the opening firmly establishes this group’s ethos – planning ways to get their “story straight” after almost hitting an old woman in their sports car, faking deaths and crashing their own memorials – the vampire plot does not lead to any fundamental reckoning. These individuals had the city, if not the world, as their playground, and any spiritual reckoning brought about by this increase in power does not register.
These elements do not mean that the film is not tremendous (if vacuous) fun. Many common vampire tropes, notably sexuality and the recording/visibility of the undead, add a mythic flavour even if they are underexplored. The characters do not initially endear themselves to viewers through their selfish ways, but their writing and framing make it clear that these entitled young adults do not need to earn full sympathy. Watching them make messes of their lives, especially as they begin to doubt their peers’ supernatural abilities and intentions, is part of the fun.
The camera work is slick and smart, matching the five protagonists’ states of mind throughout. The found-footage effect as they suffer from immediate post-turning sickness and discover their powers is especially effective, especially when contrasted minutes later with their effortlessly glamorous, smooth entry back into Taipei’s nightlife scene.
DEAD & BEAUTIFUL may not have much new to say about the vampire genre and offers little transformation in its core characters’ ethos – just new ways to implement their hedonism. That said, a stylish, original entry to the canon is always welcome.