Dead Kids (Philippines, 2019)

If anything, there’s nothing dead about Dead Kids. This new feature by Mikhail Red sure is quite lively. Perhaps way too lively. Dead Kids is quite ambitious: it tries to be a lot of things, which makes it harder for itself to become something of essence.

The narrative follows Mark Sta. Maria (Kelvin Miranda), the person who sticks out in the crowd of Catholic School Elite students due to his lack of swagger, whose encounter with childhood friends Charles Blanco (Vance Larena), Paolo (Khalil Ramos) and Uy (Jan Silverio), changes his mundane life. Sta. Maria is convinced by Blanco and his friends to join their plan to kidnap the school alpha, Chuck Santos (Markus Peterson) for a ransom of 30 million pesos. By ensuring Sta. Maria’s participation, this juvenile crew is able to use his home to hide Chuck.

The film makes the distinction between Sta. Maria and everyone else clear: Sta. Maria is the poor boy from a province who is working hard to survive in an elite school, while everyone else is stupid and having it easy with their money. There are points wherein the film attempts to give nuances to representatives of the elite by presenting either their personal or familial struggles. Often, however, these attempts at nuance are displaced by stereotypical characterization of the elite.

The film tugs between its thriller and dark comedy tropes seem to attempt for a balance. As a thriller, Dead Kids has its essentials laid out craftily: low key lighting, edge-of-the-seat sequences which support the heist-like plot. But for a film with very serious subject matter, Dead Kids is quite hard to take seriously. Its thriller approach is dominated by its humor which calls too much attention because of its exaggerations. The characters featured, excluding Sta. Maria, are the stereotypical kids of the elite: bratty, stupid and irritatingly entitled.

Dead Kids works mostly as a comedy. The plasticity presented by the stereotypes often calls attention to its form: to its adaptation of dark comedy as convention, But as the film attempts to process contemporary social issues, its dominant comedy form fails to capture the gravity of current real world issues. It’s like telling someone a grave matter with a funny grin.

The film attempts to provide nuances with the characters which helps add layer to the drama and narrative conflicts: father issues, poverty, and a take on the issue of war on drugs. But these are overshadowed by the depiction of Blanco, Paolo, Uy and even Chuck as caricatures. As caricatures of the privileged, there’s no way for their development as characters. The stereotypes in Dead Kids were not used consciously and intelligently to enrich its own narrative. The rich kids remain brats as the story progresses, as if no event or crime has transpired.

Dead Kids has a problem of consistency. It’s a thriller which is not thrilling, and a comedy which is not even attempting to be funny. Perhaps, this can be traced back to its attempts to nuance its elite characters. Chuck seems to be the one which represents the elite kids the best in the film, often enjoying himself, flaunting his clout, and having an absent father. The same is implied with Blanco. Add these attempts to deeply personalize the characters with their caricatures, places them in a more solid bubble. When Blanco attempts to explain to Sta. Maria that they, the kids from the elite too, are capable of understanding struggles, it seems merely a bluff, as affirmed by the failed Marx citation. It is when Dead Kids alludes to social issues that it becomes lost. One can believe that this might be a case of irony, but at this point, you are not sure whether even its irony is something to be believed in.

But if there’s one consistent thing in Dead Kids, it is the lack of character development for Blanco, Pao and Uy. Rather, its disdain to any kind of development in the film (narrative or formal) which can make it more effective. Its main protagonist Sta. Maria was able to develop in a certain direction, but even that is halted by the film’s choice of conclusion. No one grows in Dead Kids. No one moves forward. Rather, it’s attempt to do a lot of things becomes a point of non-commitment to anything, even proper character development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *