Review: “Dead and Beautiful (2021)”

Writer/director David Verbeek (How to Describe a Cloud) takes a journey into the land of night in his latest film, Dead and Beautiful, a leisurely-paced neon mist that attempts to overlay the vampire mythos onto the secretive world of the incredibly rich.

Five young adults, all from billionaire families and different ethnic backgrounds, are trapped in an existential ennui. They have enough money to do anything they can dream up, but the human imagination only goes so far. Boredom has tangibly set in.

Each week, one of the five is in charge of creating a memorable experience for the others. Anastasia (Anna Marchenko) takes the circle of friends out to the jungle for a tribal ritual involving bloodletting and hallucinogenics. Think ayahuasca and all of the glorious dimension shattering and bodily purging that comes with it. When the ritual is over, the ritual leader is dead and all five of the group of privileged people discover they have grown fangs. No other assumption can be made but that they have all somehow become vampires.

In contrast to standard horror movie tropes, these bloodsuckers can still see themselves in mirrors. Their images are easily captured on video. Sunlight doesn’t reduce them to fluffy piles of ash. Drunk with their newfound supernatural power, the group explores what being invincible and immortal could truly mean.

Vampirism, and the sense of power it can bring, is the worst thing that could be bestowed on these people who are already imbued with a hefty sense of entitlement. Immediately, they seek out people they consider to be lower-class citizens to be their victims. A male exotic dancer, a woman who runs a simple storefront, a group of fun-seekers at an Elvis-themed nightclub; all are seen by the group as sheep, something to be consumed and forgotten.

Much can be made from the concept of rich vampires swooping down from their perches to feast upon the poor. In a metaphorical sense, it isn’t difficult to see that happening in current society. Oddly, Dead and Beautiful glosses over those aspects by choosing to focus on the politics within the small group of friends, their new pointy teeth, and how they deal with the release of their individual and collective Ids.

Verbeek delivers a mighty pretty film, filled with luxurious long shots of city streets, sumptuous lounges, and amenity upon amenity. What Dead and Beautiful is not is a horror film. Don’t expect fountains of arterial spray to pulse out of the necks of unsuspecting victims. This is a drama, no more and no less compelling than any poor-little-rich-kids reality series available on nearly every basic cable channel.

By the time things should be wrapping up in the final act, the film takes a sharp detour into nonsense, uncovering plot holes that were not previously visible. These plot twists seem incongruous with the rest of the film. Horror fans who have stuck with Dead and Beautiful up to that point hoping for bloody redemption may be disappointed in the final 15 minutes.

Dead and Beautiful could have been a beautifully slick riff on The Lost Boys where the leather boys and ragamuffins of Santa Clara are replaced by the unobtainable and untouchable children of the upper echelon. However, the movie barely scratches its own surface, portending psychological depth where there is none to be found. One imagines there is more fun to be had on any random episode featuring Kardashians, WWE Divas, or any human named Snooki.

Dead and Beautiful premieres on the horror streaming service Shudder in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on November 4, 2021.

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