Dutch director David Verbeek’s blandly sleek tale of vampirism among the idle scions of disgustingly wealthy families as been billed described as Crazy Rich Asians with fangs. That sounds like a fairly appealing prospect. In reality, Dead & Beautiful is too mannered, clinical, and laconic to overcome a screamingly obvious central metaphor and loathsome characters that had no humanity to lose in the first place, and who certainly don’t hold enough charisma to engage as roguish anti-heroes.

Our five super-rich kids, Taiwanese Lulu (Aviis Zhong), Bin-Ray (Philip Juan), and Alex (Yen Tsao), and the European Mason (Gijs Blom) and Anastasia (Anna Marchenko) have formed the ‘Circle’. Each member of the group takes a turn in staging an elaborate event for the rest of their perennially ennui-riddled chums. Anastasia’s turn sees a shamanic ritual go awry and the entire Circle waking up dazed, confused, and in possession of some sharp dentistry. Each of the group must come to terms with their new eternal identity, but the results threaten to rupture the group.

Dead & Beautiful certainly looks the part, with cinematographer Jasper Wolf swapping the South American rainforest of Monos for a jungle of a decidedly more urban kind. The Taiwan stalked by the Circle throbs with neon glamour and menace, although it’s a palette that has become all too familiar. It’s partnered by the now requisite synthwave score courtesy of Rutger Reinders that pulses like a robotic artery. It’s a fine addition, but again, emblematic of a lack of ideas beyond the crux of its clunky analogy.

The biggest problem is that there is a lack of narrative purpose; a flatlining inertia that goes as far as a lack of characterisation. We know little about our protagonists beyond the wealth of their families, presented on screen during one early scene, presumably with satirical intent. Not even a momentous life change like the outlandish contraction of vampirism draws anything like satisfactory character development. They’re still pampered and bored, just with a hell of a lot more time to spend being so. There’s none of the anguished Sartrean philosophising of Lili Taylor‘s baby bloodsucker in Abel Ferrara‘s The Addiction, and if you want the louche decadence of eternity unspooling before you, you’re far better off with Jim Jarmusch‘s idiosyncratic Only Lovers Left Alive.

There are a few scenes that reward on a visual level such as the ceremony that seals their fate, and an outdoor dance in central Taipei. Both have a tripped-out, druggy beauty distinct from the lethargy that suffuses the rest of the film. It’s telling however, that all plaudits go to its nifty visuals, and in the few moments when Verbeek leans distinctly towards horror. The rest of the film slouches into the meandering plod too many filmmakers pass off as arthouse. None of the poor actors get to grips with the little they’re apportioned. Perhaps the fact English is a secondary language for all is a contributing factor. But the poor dialogue and flat characterisation definitely is. Come the ‘revelatory’ moments towards the films end, we’re not simply disengaged, we’re actively sharpening the stakes ourselves.

Available to stream on Shudder