Fantastic Fest 2021: DEAD & BEAUTIFUL: Like a Taiwanese CRUEL INTENTIONS, But With Vampires

It does the unthinkable & brings a new take on vampires. 狂歡時刻

Dead & Beautiful, the latest by David Verbeek, focuses on an incestuous group of super-wealthy Taiwanese twenty-somethings that are turned into vampires at an overnight instagram retreat. This is after setting the stage when one of their circle, Mason (Gijs Blom) — the enlightened, returns to the fold after attending school abroad at Harvard. His welcome back party offers a rather grim snapshot of the dynamics of the group. We have Anastasia (Anna Marchenko) — the influencer, Bin-Ray (Philip Juan) — the goofy new money, Alexander (Yen Tsao) — the toxic masculinity, and Lulu (Aviis Zhong) — the woke. When the group is turned, given the archetypes, it goes almost as you’d expect with Alexander even quoting the Joker. But even with this superficial sort of deconstruction on the top layer, the film doesn’t simply stop there. It’s a rollercoaster of twists and turns as we invoke not only the mythological meaning of the vampire, but the metaphorical one as well.

Given the subject matter, the film is a lush dreamscape, populated by pretty people mostly doing pretty people things. While I’ve seen a few people invoking Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, to be honest this felt more Cruel Intentions to me. I also feel like the longer we go, the film really manages to break some surprisingly profound ground with its take, as we see the group retreat to a soon to be renovated luxury hotel to recover after being turned. It’s here Verbeek uses the dark emptiness of the grandiose ballrooms and architecture to mimic his characters’ internal struggles. Some characters are shown in the light while some choose to dwell in darkness, letting it overtake them. Also keep in mind this film attempts to deal out its own flavor of the mythology, according to the film Stoker, inspired by a local tribe who were the ones who sponsored the retreat attended by our group.

Dead & Beautiful ultimately is an unforgiving look at these narcissists, who feed off society to simply exist as the walking dead, and that was before they were vampires. David Verbeek does the unthinkable and gives a fairly unique take on the mythological creature that also utilizes it to say something about not only the people who are the center of this story, but those that aspire to be them. This is thanks to not only the lavish cinematography, but the actors who definitely understood the assignment perfectly and imbued these individuals with a terrifying realism.This all works cohesively for a film I will no doubt be recommending to more than a few people when it hits streaming as a Shudder Original, November 4th.

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