Dead & Beautiful centers on five extremely wealthy friends. Title cards pop during the opening sequence to helpfully inform us of each person’s net worth, all of which are in the billions. We never know where the money comes from, just that they each have a lot of it.

The five friends consist of Lulu (Aviis Zhong), Mason (Gijs Blom), Bin-Ray (Philip Juan), Anastasia (Anna Marchenko), and Alexander (Yen Tsao). When we meet the group of friends, they’ve reached the inevitable end where their money can no longer buy happiness. Instead, they keep boredom at bay by planning extreme adventures and elaborate pranks on one another. The group is brought together at the beginning for the death of Bin-Ray, who ends up popping out of a giant cake to the surprise of most of the group. Anastasia is next in line to plan an adventure, and it involves some kind of mysterious ceremony deep in the woods. Things go wrong when they are all drugged and apparently turned into vampires. 

The rest of the movie is mostly spent on the friends as they adjust and attempt to cope with their new reality. There’s a brief moment where they are enjoying their situation, before lines start getting drawn in the sand and things go off the rails. 

Dead & Beautiful is a lush visual experience. Director David Verbeek’s vision is fitting of his rich subjects. The story takes place in high rises with sweeping vistas of the city and neon-drenched streets and clubs and foggy pre-dawn beaches. It’s a seductive atmosphere, one that constantly commands the eye and it is easy to fall under its spell. Verbeek is truly a gifted visual director, and Dead & Beautiful constantly reinforces that. 

Unfortunately, David Verbeek the writer doesn’t match up with David Verbeek the director. What starts as an intriguing idea with an opportunity to really arc the characters ends up being a shallow exploration of shallow characters. There are twists and turns that an eagle-eyed viewer will most likely see coming, so the surprises aren’t as surprising as they could be. The only character that has any kind of emotional depth or backstory is Lulu, who we learn through flashbacks lost her father to suicide. 

The actors do the best they can with the material they are given. Most of the time, they are just another decorative piece of any given scene. Aviis Zhong, as Lulu, has the most opportunity to really explore some emotional depth in her character. She plays the role well, as she brings a sense of sadness and mystery to Lulu that makes her the most naturally sympathetic amongst a group of people who are hard to relate to. The rest of the characters are a lot closer to the cliche of what we expect of rich people. Bored, vaguely uninterested, and at worst, openly malicious. 

Dead & Beautiful, while being a visually engaging movie, still feels largely like a missed opportunity. What could have been an interesting exploration of the relationship of wealth and ennui, and how these characters truly deal with adversity for the first time in their lives, instead plays for shallow twists and surprises. 

4 out of 10

 

Dead & Beautiful
RATING: NR
Runtime: 1 Hr. 38 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By:

 

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