With exceptions, many vampires are presented in a light (though not literally) of wealth. Class and vampires aren’t that far a stretch when it comes to topical overlapping; given the castles, decadent wardrobes, and fancy lifestyles, vampires have been accustomed to portrayals of high society. The monsters are a brilliant means to explore the corruption of wealth; these are beings who have so much yet keep wanting more. It’s a trait that is shared among the wealthy in our world – they can’t stop their consumption. This dynamic is what Dead & Beautiful strives to explore through its characters.
Directed by David Verbeek and written by Verbeek and Hugh Travers (screenplay contributor), the film follows a group of five friends who are incredibly well off. At the start we meet two women who are in fancy clothes and in a stunning Lamborghini. They meet up with a few other friends at a lounge and have a conversation; in the middle of that, another party nearby makes noise, causing two of the friends to get up and start fighting that group. During this fight, text appears on screen alongside each friend, detailing what family they come from and said family’s estimated economic worth. Let’s say that none of the families are below the one billion mark. And while the friends start the fight, the other group is removed from the lounge.
Here the film provides a nuanced manner of letting the audience know who we are going to be following. But for all their wealth, the friends are bored and seek thrills. It is on a trip into the forest where they come across more of a thrill than expected. After taking part in a mystical ritual, the group awakens to find that they have fangs, believing they’ve become vampires. It is here where Dead & Beautiful alludes to the idea that its intention is to explore that vampire-wealth dynamic – but what begins as an interesting thriller devolves into a vapid effort to examination such a relationship.
An issue that begins to creep up over the course of an otherwise interesting narrative is the lack of character detail or depth. Anything that is shared about these characters is in a vague manner; Lulu (Aviis Zhong) has several flashbacks that share childhood imagery; her friend Mason (Gijs Blom) speaks to studying Buddhism in school, and Anastasia (Anna Marchenko) has a little obsession over her phone. With the exception of Alexander (Yen Tsao) – who gets a little more development later, along with Lulu – there isn’t much else to these characters outside their actions. Which on one hand would be fine since the film’s narrative does involve a lot of intrigue and mystique, but, when aiming to explore such themes of greed, corruption through wealth, and one’s morality, there isn’t much for the audience to gather about these people.
The real driving force throughout the film is the overall suspense surrounding the transformations. There’s one scene where the group is trying to get into a building and one friend points to the distance and asks if something may be a problem. As the rest of the group turns around, the camera points to the horizon and shows the sun coming out. It’s a great moment that speaks to the mysteries of the film and what exactly is going on with the friends. The film also isn’t shy about playing things tongue-in-cheek, throwing in mentions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and poking fun at vampire tropes. These comical moments are fun early on, but become overshadowed by the darker aspects of the story. As urges among a particular character grow, the group begin to worry about their humanity.
However, all the suspense, all the intrigue, and the possibility of something deeper gets horribly undercut by a crammed third act. While one could piece together and understand that these characters are meant to portray the “rich snob” archetype, they aren’t really selling it. Besides the expensive clothes, nice cars, and that one character’s urges, no one does anything to convey a moral complexity. And so, in an attempt to say that everything previously is meant to be viewed as a commentary of sorts, the film throws in a twist and a brief couple lines of character exposition in its third act. The twist itself is interesting, but the context is given in such a blunt manner, one may get a decent chuckle out of it. And to add insult to injury, the twist gets overshadowed by another twist that closes out the film – one that provides an aura of confusion and meanness.
The worst crime of all that though is how poorly the film strives to tackle any subject of substance. When it comes to the concept of “being a vampire” in a greedy, using people sort of way – it all comes across vapidly due to the surface level attention given. With greater plot points arriving in the third act and with little runtime left, the viewer may feel that a lot was just thrown at them; it may not be too far off to question, “Why is all of this coming up now?”
It’s a shame because what Dead & Beautiful sets up is cool. It’s a neat spin on the vampire archetype and offers a premise that alludes to critiques on class divide and the evils of greed. But the film doesn’t achieve that; had the writing established more fleshed-out characters, given us people to feel for or to judge, then maybe those themes could have been more prominent. Instead, due to a rushed and muddled conclusion, Dead & Beautiful’s intriguing story crumbles, giving out to bland exposition and sentiments.