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
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.
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