“We don’t live in the same world as you.” Being young and rich is horribly dull. When you have the money and the wherewithal to do anything, you quickly tire of just about everything. That, at least, is the premise of David Verbeek’s stunning vampire film, Dead & Beautiful. The film follows five insanely wealthy twenty-somethings living it up in Taipei. Their lives are filled with sleek, beautiful clothes, car services, bars who will close entire sections just for them at the snap of their fingers. And they are bored of all of it. Nothing excites them anymore, and nothing is expected of them.
In order to try to keep things interesting, they take turns planning new adventures and excursions that are more than just restaurants and bar-hopping. Their latest outing is thought up by Anastasia (Anna Marchenko), who drags them out into the jungle to meet up with a mysterious shaman in the name of participating in a strange and not well-known ritual.
The group wakes up early the next morning with no memory of the night’s events, each sporting a brand new, shiny set of fangs. This was obviously not what Anastasia had planned, nor what any of them had expected. In the days that follow, they begin to experiment with their newfound thirst for blood. If they thought they had no limitations before, being rich is nothing compared to being a vampire.
The film is absolutely gorgeous. When we think vampires, we so often go to imagery from antiquity. We think Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. But Verbeek’s undead live in a world full of neon. Everything is sleek and shiny. The blacks glisten and the colors are full and bright. The synth soundtrack from Rutger Reinders compliments the visuals perfectly, creating a setting and an aesthetic for these creatures that is very modern.
As the story develops, it becomes a meditation on privilege and human connection. On generational wealth and responsibility. For a group that was somewhat separated from society to start with, how will a further step away from humanity itself affect them? Some of them resist. Others embrace it fully, having only been marginally connected to the world at large to begin with.
And through it all, they begin to understand themselves and each other on a deeper level than they ever have. There is a lot under the surface that these characters refuse to acknowledge. Guilt, personal frustration and self-loathing are acknowledged for the first time through this experience, and they find themselves on a journey to self-discovery and (finally) understanding.
The film takes a number of turns, some of which don’t fully stand up in retrospect, but the story is entertaining. It’s always exciting to see a refreshing take on a genre staple, and Verbeek’s vampires are definitely that. And by making his cast members of the 1%, it takes the question “what would you do if you could do anything?” to an entirely different level.