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  Dead & Beautiful A Vampire By Any Other Name
Year: 2021
Director: David Verbeek
Stars: Aviis Zhong, Gijs Blom, Yen Tsao, Anna Marchenko, Philip Juan
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: These five friends are all rich kids, sons and daughters of billionaires who live off daddy's money and find life very easy, especially in this location of Taiwan which welcomes the well-off. But something has been bothering them recently: maybe life is too easy, and they should think about a challenge; to that end, they have been staging what they call turns, that is, adventures for them all to embark on for a night, just to stave off the boredom which threatens their contentment. Lulu Wong (Aviis Zhong) has been unimpressed by one of their number, Bin-Ray (Philip Juan) staging his own wake, but believes she has the very idea to keep things fresh. She will invite her pals out to the woods, where a shaman is waiting, and a ceremony can begin.

Here was a vampire movie that was certain to divide opinion, there were no two ways about it, you either went with this big twist or you did not, and if you did not, you would be scoffing at the characters' reactions and the whole set-up, once exposed by the last act. That's not to say it wasn't guessable, more that you might not expect it to go that far in sustaining its premise and doing what it did to the players involved, in a manner that was not unlike the David Fincher and Michael Douglas team up The Game from the nineteen-nineties. But this was truly a twenty-twenties movie, and that meant social conscience and commentary from the filmmakers, chiefly the director and writer, Dutchman in the Far East David Verbeek, who appeared to be the guiding hand.

He had a sure grasp on his visuals, that much was certain, presenting a selection of too cool for school neon-drenched scenes and shots that showed off Taiwan to its best advantage, at least if you were someone who was able to afford the opulence on display. Yet even there, that involved inhabiting a lot of fashionably empty spaces, roomy rooms where you can see the vistas of the city and country beyond from the vantage point of the tall windows letting the light in, or that aforementioned neon light in. It was reminiscent of Tony Scott's eighties cult favourite The Hunger in its dedication to style over substance, yet there was substance here too, as mentioned an observational technique as applied to the super-rich that quietly condemned them for where they accumulated all that money and power, basically by buying up everything they could and bleeding the land dry.

Though what of the vampirism? A simple metaphor was not going to be enough for horror fans, so Lulu's stunt sees them passing out in the forest only to awaken with the shaman mysteriously dead (two puncture wounds in neck - check) and all five of them strangely different. For a start, they all have grown fangs in the vampire tradition, so any one of them could have offed the holy man (we're back at the metaphor), and now are wondering if they have to spend the rest of eternity drinking blood to sustain themselves. Will they even see the sunlight again? Or are they not that kind of vampire? Where does the folklore end and the reality begin, anyway? The answers to those are kind of explained, but maybe not really, by that twist which may feel like a trick on the audience as much as anyone in the film, meaning the commentary may be the strongest aspect, given you could, ahem, get your teeth into the cynicism at the heart of the matter more than you could the parts that were intended to be a horror movie. You either settled into its languid pacing and appearance, or you wanted something more energetic - but weren't vampires pretty decadent anyway? Music by Rutger Reinders.

[Shudder, AMC Networks' premium streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural, will premiere vampire thriller Dead & Beautiful, Thursday, November 4 2021 in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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