GORE IN THE STORE
DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL ***
Directed by David Verbeek.
Starring Aviis Zhong, Gijs Blom, Anna Marchenko, Philip Juan, Yen Tsao.
Horror, Netherlands, 100 minutes.
Streaming on Shudder from 4th November
Cinematic vampires seem to mainly exist in either one of two camps. Usually we follow the mysterious figures, lurking in the shadows ready to strike at the heart of a community, whether it is the cave dwelling LOST BOYS or the nomads of NEAR DARK driving around small-town America in their battered Winnebago snatching unwitting victims from the side of the road. On the other end of this social scale, we have the rich and powerful, prime examples being the cabal behind the curtains of power in the original BLADE film and the original figure who started it all, Dracula who conducts a campaign of terror when he invades London from his own Transylvanian castle. Time then for DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL, a film that exists very much in the latter camp, examining a bunch of twenty-something billionaires who after a night-time jungle ritual find themselves growing fangs, leading them onto act on their predatory natures against those lower than them on the social ladder.
The ritual is just the latest in a series of “turns” that a group of five friends put on for each other, looking for an experience that will jolt their cynical lives that are already affected by a growing sense of malaise and ennui that seemingly no amount of money can remove. A sense of panic sets in with the discovery of their newly sharpened teeth, causing them to hide away in a vast abandoned property of a deserted hotel where they discuss and tentatively embark on discovering the extent of their newly discovered powers and sense of themselves. Seemingly getting to grasp with the situation quickest are Lulu, a Chinese woman who dwells on the past of her powerful family and Dutch Mason, a more spiritually minded figure than the brash, newly wealthy Bin-Ray and Alexander who seems all too eager to explore his new predator status. Rounding out this group is the glamorous Anastasia who is more than ready to share her transformation on social media with her many followers.
Although a familiar story DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL manages to keep itself interesting with its sense of location. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf, who also lensed the otherworldly children at war tale MONOS, brings a near sci-fi ambiance to the screen here. Filmed mainly in Taipei, he captures the vast, shimmering Chinese cityscape to stunning effect. Whether following the cast in near empty airports or into smoke filled nightclubs illuminated by sparse laser lighting as they stalk a test subject to draw blood from, Wolf’s lensing of a familiar tale brings a fresh and futuristic sheen to the proceedings that seduces the viewer.
However, the cast of unsympathetic characters helps to keep the audience from fully sympathising with their plight and embracing the film. The familiar beats of a once close-knit group of friends turning on each other is also on display, although nothing new or fresh is brought on screen here. A third act reveal lays out the film’s barely concealed subtext into broad daylight to middling results that also lay bare several plot inconsistencies that undermine the otherwise engaging narrative. Like its cast of characters, it is nice to look at but underneath the glitzy surface there really is not a lot going on.