Many look to the upper echelons of society with a peculiar sense of awe, lives where money is no longer a concern is something that has drawn people into these untouchable figures since the very creation of the class system. Whether the fascination is to loathe or admire the fortunate few and their luxurious lives, the obsessions are, nevertheless, universal. Often, horror films focused among the elite have focused on vilifying the group, a bias grounded in reason when considering great wealth almost always comes at the exploitation of the lower classes.
However, this is where Dead and Beautiful takes a unique approach on bucking negative perceptions of the rich and adding an extra layer of omnipotence through supernatural powers – immortality through vampirism. How does the group of five kids of the richest people on the planet receive such gift? Well, in a case of one-upmanship, the group play a game where they take turns to offer some shock in their otherwise carefree life. As such, the richest of the bunch, Lulu (Aviis Zhong), takes her friends deep into the jungle for a forbidden ritual. After passing out, the five wake to find their guide dead of a neck bite that likely matches their new fangs. Once calming from a panic, they return to the safety of the city, where their status means they don’t have to hide and have time to fester on what to do – whether it be preservation or dominance.
The result is an oddly hypnotic drama, as thee group navigate the world as free entities: an experience already afforded to them but now heightened by their transformations. In addition, they begin to crumble under the pressure, fighting over how much they should embrace the monsters they have become. At the same time, there is also a sense of restrain, a desire to do everything flawlessly falling in line with their upbringing. Essentially, this dynamic makes certain that even as conflict arises, there is an underlying sense that conveying perfection is more essential to survival than any bloodlust.
This sense of perfection carries over into all aspects of the production, with an aesthetic that can be best described as ‘dreams of consumerism’. The fashion is impeccable, the locations extravagant and the pacing of the narrative is casual (even time given presented as a luxury). As a result, Dead and Beautiful’s visuals wrap its subjects with a vibe of lush serenity that resonates a life of unrestrained opulence.
A co-production between the Netherlands and Taiwan, the film has brought together the perfect cast of bilingual actors who express both the beauty and vanity of their roles. In particular, the two debutantes in Lulu (Aviis Zhong) and Anastasia (Anna Marchenko) utilize their sexual prowess to lure in victims along with manipulate the emotions of the men in the friend group. Additionally, the same praise can be given to Yen Tsao, Gijs Blom and Philip Juan for those who prefer to admire the male form – the use of power is give and take between the sexes. Regardless, the cast maintains the shiny veneer of pride from start to finish.
Sadly, the sense of perfection marks the productions greatest shortcoming, the inability to find the characters even slightly relatable. Shallow and careful to show emotion, the group is meant to be admired and not relatable. Arguably, this approach is what makes production such a unique take on the vampire genre, yet it is impossible to avoid how distant their personalities are due to their unfathomable riches. The other detriment to the production is an ending that is sure to be divisive, a few quick twists that deter from the overall experience. Ultimately, as flawless as the visuals and performances are, the film has its own pitfalls by design. It is hard to envision this as anyone’s favorite vampire film, but it deserves respect for where it does succeed.
Thankfully, Dead & Beautiful will be making its way to Shudder streaming after its Fantastic Fest premiere, so audiences will be able to experience it for themselves. It is a perfect exercise in over-indulgence, a lush visual experience that will mesmerize audiences with all its glitz and glamour; that is, if you allow yourself to fall under its vampiric spell!
We Watched Dead & Beautiful as part of the 2021 Fantastic Fest
Greetings, My name is Adam and I am from Canada.
My love for all things bizarre came at a young age, as boredom in a small town lead me down a rabbit hole of obscure film, music, tv and literature. I have carried these fascinations with and turned it into a passion for writing, sharing and discussing the various arts.
My area of expertise, if there was one, would be geared towards Asian horror with a particular interest in film and manga. However, if it is odd, disturbing or trashy I probably heard of it or can at least pretend I have in conversation.
Thank you for taking the time to read my work, I always look to grow both as a writer and fan. I truly appreciate anyone willing to come along for the journey and share their passions in turn.