by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Young Filipino director Mikhail Red is slowly carving a name for himself in the film industry by tying local issues to his quite enthralling films. Though he took a step away in Eerie earlier this year, his other films like Rekorder, Neomanila, and arguably his best one Birdshot have each incorporated subjects of social interest—controversial to a point, but not short of thrills.
Mikhail continues his momentum in newest film Dead Kids, the first ever Filipino Netflix original film. Inspired by real events, Dead Kids follows a couple teenagers who kidnap their bully schoolmate and ask for a ransom of P30 million from the victim’s father, a wealthy drug lord.
Even if it his first time working with an ensemble cast and relying more on dialogue, Mikhail delivers another thrilling film that mirrors Gen Z high school life, poking fun at it at some points, while dealing with the issues inherent in social classes—especially considering how both are affected by those involved in the war on drugs. Mikhail and his brother Nikolas expertly took the true story of a college student kidnapping and raised the stakes of what will follow given the current political atmosphere of the country. This is topped off by their decision to have the fictional school stage a production of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, with the cast’s respective characters playing a big role in the film’s climax.
While the cast seems just a tad bit too old to be portraying high schoolers, each of them perfectly play the stereotype characters you would find in a teen film—and Mikhail doesn’t just do it for the sake of representing every individual found in a school, but each of the characters and their personalities plays a significant role into how the kidnapping is planned and executed, and of its aftermath.
Kelvin Miranda and Vance Larena as Sta. Maria and Blanco, respectively, carry a bulk of the acting as two polar opposites of the heist while deep down both express internal turmoils that haunt them. Kelvin’s Sta. Maria is a struggling scholar trying to make ends meet, while Vance’s Blanco has to deal with the difficult relationship he now has with his policeman father. Both of them do not hold back in conveying just how troubling their situations are even when they try to take matters into their own hands.
Also worthy of note and extremely amusing is Khalil Ramos as Paolo, who seems the perfect example of a rowdy high schooler, with no filter on his performance. Sue Ramirez, in her limited screen time, gives life to a child-like innocence fighting to survive in a tough generation as A-student Janina. The rest of the cast also excellently fit into their teenage characters—Gabby Padilla as the sassy party girl Yssa, Jan Silverio as the cool yet secretive Uy, and most especially Markus Paterson as the rich bully/victim Chuck.
One of Red’s film making trademarks is amplifying the production value, and what he does in Dead Kids is just marvelous. His frequent director of photography Mycko David helms the lighting in the most flawless positions. Whether through a beam of a streetlamp or the sun peering through the window, or the neon lights of a club, bar, and burger store, he is able to capture on the camera the intensity of the scene already elevated by the performances of the cast. Adding to the value is the production design by Eero Francisco, from the platform and backstage of the school play to Sta. Maria’s residence, the cramped spaces only add to the teenage emotions being tossed around. Contributing to the auditory excellence of the film—apart from the amazing sound design—is the music supervision of Quark Henares, who also serves as an executive producer.
Though it shows Mikhail is making the slow and unsteady shift into genre movie, from the independent movies that he is acclaimed for. He has shown in Dead Kids that he has a firm direction and understanding of his chosen subject matter, which flourishes into a conversation across generations about how affected teenagers are by national issues. After all, these kids are, well, no longer children. But will they be given a chance to truly grow up if politics and society get in the way?
Mikhail Red’s Dead Kids is now streaming on Netflix.