‘Dead Kids’ is the coming-of-age movie of a generation that holds nothing sacred

Photos courtesy of Netflix

 

Dead Kids, the first Filipino Netflix Original feature, opens in a seedy, sleazy spa. Not exactly what you’d expect from a movie about high school kids, but then again, it never proclaimed itself to be your typical high school movie in the first place. Everything about the opening sequence — neon lighting, stark shapes and tight cuts, Sylvia La Torre’s kitschy No Money, No Honey, even the fonts — is moody and stylized, making for an excellent first impression. 

Less excellent is the first impression we get of a kid (not a dead one, mind you) called Chuck Santos, who only gets worse from here: he’s bragging about his Yeezys and asking the women providing massages if they’ve got “daddy issues.” Except there are no women, and he’s instead surrounded by four masked assailants. Cue the “What the f*ck?!” 

Based on a true story and helmed by Birdshot and Eerie director Mikhail Red, Dead Kids is a twisted play on the buddy comedy and coming-of-age movie in which a group of misfits get together and plan to kidnap the school’s resident jerk (Chuck, played by Markus Paterson) for a ransom of P30 million. 

There’s Uy (Jan Silverio), butt-monkey and recipient of too many gay jokes for his — and the movie’s — own good. There’s Paolo (Khalil Ramos), ignorant and tactless but makes up for it with occasional flashes of brilliance and his ability to get along with anyone. There’s Blanco (Vance Larena), godson to Chuck’s drug-lord father and son of a corrupt police chief. And there’s Sta. Maria (Kelvin Miranda), recent UPCAT passer who looks at the ground as he walks and mostly flies under the radar. Their plan is foolproof: they get their revenge, nobody gets hurt, they each get a cut of the money. 

What Dead Kids really has going for it is that it has gathered a talented young cast that’s versatile and easy to relate to, rounded out by Sue Ramirez as Janina, Sta. Maria’s crush who serves as the pure moral compass, and Gabby Padilla as Yssa, Paolo’s sassy take-no-shit girlfriend who’s smarter than anyone gives her credit for. They’re all believable as naive and deadpan and vulnerable and foolhardy high school students — this is both the youngest and oldest they’ve ever been, a time in their lives when everything they want is within reach, yet it can all go away just as easily. Everything is easy and everything’s a joke, until of course nothing is anymore. 

Despite dark themes, there’s still plenty of humor to go around in the movie, made even better because the dialogue is very true to middle class Filipino youth. Khalil Ramos is incredible comic relief as Paolo, who, even with obnoxious behavior and jokes that cross the line, can’t help but endear himself to audiences when he goes “You ‘shh,’ Jenny Mae!” to a classmate who tells him to quiet down in the library and hurls insults at his supposed best friends. There’s even a Baby Driver-esque moment with the ridiculous masks they use, not to mention Chuck’s amazing customized ringtone where, over a trap loop, he yells at himself to “answer the phone, bay-bee!” 

Dead Kids checks off all the items of both a quintessential coming-of-age film (from the school play based on El Filibusterismo to a gratuitous food-fight montage, because why not?) and a heist film (a satisfying breakdown of the plan, and plenty of tension to go around). The style exhibited in the opening scene remains throughout and keeps things fresh.

In a heist film, you want the perpetrators to succeed, or fail spectacularly — the kind of ending you can’t imagine going any other way. Dead Kids falls the tiniest bit short in that sense; you can’t help but think, “There are so many paths they could’ve taken. Why this?” It could have built more tension following the fallout of a particular turn of events, let its characters stew a little. But somehow you understand anyway: There’s been a lot of talk about how the best movies of the year have tackled class dynamics, with “eat-the-rich” leanings. Dead Kids is another narrative that follows suit, with cultural commentary on corrupt law enforcement and all kinds of injustice to boot, and its skepticism is certainly earned.

With a runtime of just above an hour and a half, it’s a quick and entertaining exploration of what modern youth from all perspectives is like in Metro Manila, and just how far it can go. The shots stay tight — at least, until we get to the big picture. 

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