DEAD &D BEAUTIFUL (2021)
Directed by David Verbeek
A Shudder Original
Five wealthy twenty-somethings find themselves at a loose end with no responsibility and their parent’s bulging wallets burning a hole in their pocket. With nothing else better to do, the only way to get a kick is to take it in turns to lead an experience they can all enjoy. For social media-obsessed Anastasia, a trip into the wilderness with a guide turns sour when a run-in with an Arovi shaman has them awakening with a set of fangs and a new lease on life. How will they cope with their newfound features?
DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL exposes its set of rich kid characters to moral and ethical dilemmas in this dramatic thriller as they come to terms with their transformation.
Opulence oozes from the screen from the very first moment where we’re introduced to each of the five lead characters with one of the five, Bin-Ray, making an unexpected entrance that kind of represents just who they are – rich with nothing else better to do. It’s hard to get to know and like these characters as the snobbery is off the charts. The richest of them all, Mason Van Der Bilt, appears to come over all contemplative and humble as he reveals he’s been studying Buddhism but his Asian friends seem sceptical of this as I suppose it clashes with his frivolous lifestyle. Despite them being friends, it’s clear neither trusts the other completely and the only thing they care more about than themselves is cold, hard cash. However, Anastasia’s trip into the wilderness and their unplanned brush with a shaman has them relying on each other more than they’d like as they seek refuge in Alex’s parents’ unfinished hotel. Each featuring a pair of fangs, so obvious they can’t even hide them from sight when they open their mouths, the five struggle to come to terms with what this may mean for them and their future.
As we follow the set of characters, their facade melts away and their true nature comes to the surface. Some deal with it better than others with each person reacting differently to what they now see in the mirror (ironically, they can still be seen in the mirror!). Anastasia, for instance, at first seems quite spoiled but she and Bin-Ray turn out to be two of the best of the bunch. Anastasia, in particular, brings much of the comedy element with her character being social media-obsessed but also very self-conscious and lonely, finding solace in her followers. Bin-Ray’s humour is produced with the child-like way he’s discovering himself and what abilities he may or may not have.
DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL serves to expose human nature and how we react when threatened or need to deal with trauma. The way in which this is executed is a bit hit and miss with some of the performances feeling rather stilted. This isn’t helped when the bunch of characters on-screen are hard to empathise with.
Stylistically, DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL is a visual treat. Lavish, futuristic settings and tech further fuels that these friends are living in a different world to the rest. It’s all about fast cars and plenty of money, living the high life. Without a doubt, the five are out of touch with reality to the point that they think they’re above it all. The only thing that could topple them from their mighty pedestals is the fact that they’ve been transformed. But weren’t they societal vampires anyway, sucking the life out of the working class to fuel their extravagant lifestyles, ahead of getting their fangs?
The night time scenes ooze an underlying sleaze, masked by the bright colours of the neon lights and bustling city life. You could say it’s an analogy for some of the characters themselves; flash on the outside but hollow on the inside.
Ultimately, DEAD AND BEAUTIFUL promises much more than it delivers as the strained storyline shuffles its way to its underwhelming climax with characters you feel as indifferent to as when setting sights on them from the opening scene. Though employing a slick aesthetic, it fails to engage and entertain with a lack of substance.