Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Dead & Beautiful, on Shudder

Apparently, the only thing that brings out an individual’s true inner nature more than mutant superpowers is vampirism. That is what Lulu Wong discovers when she and her beautiful and entitled friends suddenly wake up with fangs following a bizarre ritual in David Verbeek’s Dead & Beautiful, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

Who needs New York or Hong Kong when the exclusive clubs of Taipei are so lavish and alluring? Yet, her fab five still inevitably grow bored with their constant partying. To liven things up, they establish a weekly tradition, in which each member takes their turn orchestrating some kind of surprise. However, when Anastasia Rublov arranges for a Shamanic ritual in the rainforest, they get more than the New Agey nature vibes she anticipated—perhaps due to influence of the original aboriginal people that maybe still haunt the land.

They obviously now have the fangs, but they do not know how many other traditional vampire tropes apply to their new conditions. Alexander Tsai, who still jealously carries a torch for Wong, is eager to embrace the vampire undead-style. In contrast, having recently embraced a half-baked version of Buddhism, Mason Van Der Bilt is hesitant to give up on their humanity. Shallow Lo Bin-ray falls somewhere in the middle, enjoying goofy shtick of vampires, whereas Rublov is confused on how it all affects her Instagramming influence.

is super-stylism, filled with neon-lit clubs and glowing Taipei nightscapes, but it also has some interesting thoughts in its pretty head. Verbeek’s screenplay uses the vampire phenomenon to make some sly allegorical points regarding class and gender. (Anastasia’s talk of “transitioning” rings with current significance, without beating viewers over the head.) Yet, more than anything, their new undead state really seems to bring out who they really are. Unfortunately, in the case of the confused Wong, she still doesn’t seem to truly know herself.

The problem is the five co-leads are a bit rocky as the vampiric friends. Probably, Aviis Zhong and Gijs Blom fare the best, developing something like chemistry as Wong and Van Der Bilt. Yen Tsao has some creepy moments as Tsai, but he is too restrained when the film needs some flamboyantly villainous scenery chewing. Alas, as Rublov, Anna Marchenko is just glaringly uncomfortable with her English dialogue, which undercuts all her scenes.

D&B offers a fresh angle on the undead (radically different from the Chinese cinematic vampire tradition) and an entertainingly voyeuristic deep dive into the privileged Taipei party scene. Even though it ends on a gimmicky note, vampire fans should enjoy the ride it takes us on. Recommended for fans of films like The Hunger, Dead & Beautiful starts streaming tomorrow (11/4) on Shudder.