Mikhail Red’s “Birdshot” (2016) was the first Filipino film to stream on the Netflix platform. There had since been several other Filipino films to reach worldwide viewership this way. This year, Red goes one step further with his latest film “Dead Kids,” which gains the distinction as the first Filipino film to be produced by Netflix. This had its world premiere last November 17, 2019 as the closing film of the recent Cinema One Originals film festival. Two days ago, it made its Netflix debut.
The title “Dead Kids” refer to outcasts or unpopular kids in school, those who don’t exist to the other students. The story refers to a gang of such kids: the serious leader Blanco, the wacky joker Paolo, the vaping Chinese nerd Yu, and their new recruit, poor scholar Mark Sta. Ana. Tired of being tormented by popular rich kid Chuck Santos, the boys hatch a plot to kidnap the bully and demand a sizable ransom from his drug lord father. Once their nefarious plan gets going though, they realize how much they were in over their heads.
This is another one of those youth-themed films showing their shenanigans in school. While these could be very entertaining for young people, for parents they paint disconcerting pictures of what they don’t see after they drop their kids off every morning. We have seen these tropes before — the bullies, the mean girls, the nerds, the massage parlor, the dance clubs. However, this one took things further with a particularly violent turn which made it all the more disturbing for everyone.
Admittedly, the actors may look older than typical senior high school students, but they all brought their A-games to their roles. They were all very natural in their portrayal of youthful recklessness. Vance Larena looked dangerously volatile with his big baleful eyes reflecting issues jumbled around inside Blanco’s head. Khalil Ramos was too effective at being the annoying jerk that Paolo was, you’d want to shut that noisy mouth of his yourself. New actor Kelvin Miranda pulled off the misfit naivete required of the central role of Mark very well.
Among the girls, Sue Ramirez had prominent billing, but her character, the smart girl Janina, was largely sidelined and undeveloped. Instead, it was actually Gabby Padilla who got to join in the action more as Paolo’s nosy girlfriend Yssa.
With energetic camera work and edgy musical score, director Mikhail Red succeeded to create a nihilistic milieu in which the underdogs attempt the unthinkable to extract revenge and extort money at the same time. He could have pushed the outrageous concept into further depths of violence, but wisely elected to still keep things grounded in reality.
Part one of the caper may have looked a bit too easy to pull off, but Red made sure the rest of the plan would not just come together that conveniently for the boys. The suspense and tension of the final outcome will keep viewers hanging on to the very end.
This review was originally published in the author’s blog, ‘Fred said.’ (Fred Hawson, abs-cbn news)