Directed by: #DavidVerbeek
Written by: #DavidVerbeek
David Verbeek’s latest feature, Dead and Beautiful, is a remarkably conceived, remarkably realised vampire-yuppie odyssey into the night. Primarily centred around five mega-rich friends (whose net-worth appears on screen as they enter the frame), Verbeek’s film becomes an intense interrogation of wealth, youth, and lost innocence; all set against glamorous urban backdrops that are made all the more beautiful by the cinematography of Jasper Wolf.
The film involves an insidious set of plot twists, each one writhing into something else entirely unforeseen. After the five friends spend the night camping on some land once owned by an indigenous tribe (who were kicked out under Dutch colonial rule), they find themselves taking ayahuasca-like offerings from a mysterious shaman - they black out. On awaking, they realise that they all have a brand new set of fangs. Panic-stricken, they are now forced to reconcile with the irrational, and decide whether or not their new monstrous identities are something to fight or wilfully embrace.
Some of the friends leap at the chance to be a real-life movie-monster, such as Alexander (Yen Tsao) who muddles movie vampire with Heath Ledger’s Joker. But others a more reticent, reluctant to kill for food, such as Lulu (Gijs Blom) and Mason (Aviis Zhong). It becomes clear to each of them that perhaps, in some way, they were always destined to be monsters. Children of billionaires who stole miles and miles of indigenous land in the name of profit, Verbeek’s film presents vampires and billionaires as families cut from the same cloth; both clans hunt together. Dead and Beautiful, beyond monstrous melodrama and urban fantasy, is a telling and relevant insight into the responsibilities of power.
The film has all the makings of a cult-classic. Visually opulent, with performances that at first might seem a little bland, then morph into pristine camp, enriching the whole film with an element of self-awareness. The five friends even reassure themselves that ‘We’re not in a movie’, and yet so much of the film is preoccupied with cinema, with nods to the vampire films that have preceded it, and even with hilarious film-within-film elements; one friend makes an online vampire-diary charting his experience coming-out as a vampire. Another friend uses her instagram stories to explain her new identity to her friends. Embracing the twenty-first century as an eerie, sterile, neon-gothic landscape, Dead and Beautiful is a highlight from the IFFR, and a gem in the history of vampire films.