‘Dead Kids’ review: Viciously entertaining
Mikhail Red is a conundrum.
At 28, he has already released 5 feature length films. However, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where he stands as an artist and what his allegiances are as a filmmaker.
Rekorder (2013), his first film and, so far, only film that doesn’t feel like it careens towards a specific genre, remains to be his most compelling work, which isn’t to say that his other films are not of note. Birdshot (2016), a neo-western set in boondocks that could’ve been located anywhere in the Philippines, has aspirations of relevance that are obscured by its stylistic endeavors. Neomanila (2017) is a grim but mannered neo-noir set in the climate of fear and paranoia brought about by Duterte’s drug war. Eerie (2019) is a glossy school-set ghost story whose suggestions were more intriguing than its outcome.
Red jumps from one genre to the next, grounded only by fervent attempts at social relevance.
There is always that nagging feeling that Red is trying his best to mature fast enough to keep up with a national cinema that is so invested in issues. It isn’t enough that he churns out wonderfully crafted films. They have to say something about the nation, no matter how his stance exposes an unripe outlook that is arguably dealt from a perspective not just of youth but also comfort and inexperience. His films lack the anger and passion that render their social impulses compelling. They fall short as reflections of a nation’s angst and concerns.
His films are all technical marvels, all parades of sound, sight and mood, all making peers who have been making films for decades look like amateurs. However, despite the seamlessness of all his works, they never give a glimpse of what Red stands for as a filmmaker, what he reveals of himself from his works aside from his deep interest with cinema and all its genre permutations.
Breath of fresh air
Dead Kids is, therefore, a breath of fresh air.
For the first time since Rekorder, Red has created something where the tropes that are usually associated with the genre do not take precedence over the distinct personality of the work. The film, about seemingly normal high schoolers who haphazardly kidnap a classmate for money, is both a humorous and tragic portrait of youth rushing towards the sins and vices of adulthood. It is rife with the familiar immaturities of Red’s generation, mouthing witticisms that run counter to their intended criminal activity, turning the entire narrative into a thrilling comedy of errors starring wannabe bad boys who unwittingly chew more than they can swallow.
The film feels truest to Red’s stance as a filmmaker.
It reflects his undeniable skill and craft. It is concerned about current events, touching on issues of class divide but within the more framework of the familiar inequities happening in a private high school. More importantly, Dead Kids is fueled not by the need to say something profound about the state of society, but by a compulsion to depict teenagers who are as confused about their uncertain future as their fractured moral stance. This is Red in his most fluent, simply because this is Red right in the middle of his comfort zone, telegraphing attitudes, anxieties and apprehensions of his very own class and generation.
Dead Kids finally grants a glimpse of Red being young, being fun, and being apt and relevant.
Wayward high schoolers
More importantly, Dead Kids is viciously entertaining.
Its attempts to draw sympathies for its ragtag team of wayward high schoolers do not always work but its elaborate navigation from their carelessly planned fall from grace and innocence to their symbolism-ridden comeuppance is full of thrills and surprises.
It never feels like Red is either overreaching or underperforming. Everything just gels seamlessly. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.