The first Netflix Original Film out of the Philippines examines youth culture through a coming-of-age heist flick by Mikhail Red.
Mikhail Red’s Dead Kids is the first capital-red-N Netflix Film out of the Philippines, which shouldn’t be overlooked in discussions of it. Pathetic whiners in the cushy West might lament the rise of streaming as the increasingly go-to format for home entertainment, not noticing – or perhaps not caring – the opportunities it affords global film and television. Dead Kids will sidestep a famously impenetrable national box office and enjoy the marketing might and international reach of Netflix, where it was released today, December 1st, 2019, during an otherwise barren weekend. There’s little about that which could be considered anything other than a positive for the film, and for those – many of whom would have been totally unaware of it – who get to see it.
Also fitting and important is the film’s skewering – perhaps examination would be a better word – of a grossly unequal and increasingly social-media-driven Filipino youth culture, and the issues facing that culture. The plot of Dead Kids concerns a band of teenage misfits who plot to kidnap their private school’s resident rich bully, Chuck Santos (Markus Paterson), a setup rife with potential commentary that, for the most part, the film manages to make without tedious lecturing.
The result is a culturally specific fusion of genre elements and types – the machinery of a heist movie with the texture of a coming-of-age drama, the class clown in cahoots with the straight-A scholar, and so on, and so forth – with a frisson of from-the-headlines topicality. Dead Kids is about navigating a socially stratified real-world culture through the glossy, detached lens of the Internet Age; it’s about what happens when basic notions of ethics, personal accountability, and empathy are filtered and second-hand.
The kids, then, have to shoulder the burden of not just the film’s plot but its setting, a kind of post-adult always-online simulacrum. Smart casting of young, game up-and-comers does the trick; most are slightly older than high-school age, but young enough to remember what it was like to put innocence in the rear-view and accelerate into adulthood. Dead Kids gives them plenty of life, and Netflix will give it plenty of onlookers.