Review: Netflix's "Dead Child" blends high school drama with Filipino drug war


Courtesy Netflix.

Recently, Netflix has been gaining increasing attention in Asia. The streaming platform isn't just producing content from traditional cultural powerhouses like China, Korea, or Japan – it's also pulling stories from all over Southeast Asia. Dead children Marks the first original Netflix movie from the Philippines. Directed by renowned Filipino filmmaker Mikhail Reid, stereotypical high school drama plays a role in dead children, but commentary on social issues in contemporary Philippines.

Kidnapping of drug lords and adolescents

The dying children are assigned to a group of high school students in the senior year. Our main protagonist, Mark Santa Maria (Calvin Miranda), belongs to a poor family, and is looking forward to receiving a university scholarship. We soon meet with Chuck Santos, the son of a wealthy local businessman. Chuck is easy to hate on the audience. It has emerged as a stereotype. In addition to making fun of Santa Maria's clothes, he also portrays Hitler as a historical figure.

This suggests that Santos' father's "business" is a drug cartel protected by a local police chief. The police chief's son, Blanco, secretly praises him for being a bully and blackmailing his family. Blanco and two other victims of Santos – Paolo and two other victims of Yufu – persuaded Santa Maria that they had joined in their plot to kidnap Santos for ransom.

However, Santos' abduction comes in a way that does not have the dramatic tension of a proper crime thriller. As you might expect, teenage boys do not make great criminal masterminds. Even the boys have no serious challenge to their plans. The most dangerous moment for the motley crew is when Santa comes to check in at Maria's apartment where the boys are hiding, and they are almost imprisoned.

All that is to say, Dead Kids is quite remarkable as a movie. Compared to other high school dramas, no character is more complex or prominent. Compared to the kidnapping thriller, the plot of the dead children is best portrayed as a hobby (after all, what would you expect from four teenage boys?).


Courtesy Netflix.

A dash of social commentary

However, Dead Kids stand up to social commentary from traditional high school dramas such as high school musicals or love alarms.

The Philippines faces a controversial war against drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte. Although Duterte's plans are questionable, there is no doubt that the island has a serious drug addiction. In fact, government officials are also often corrupt, who work with drug dealers in Kahot. While we rarely see Santos' father onscreen, Santos himself acts as a representation of everything that makes drug owners easy to hate: they are rich for the wrong reasons, and the local bully. Work with punishment as punishment.

In Santa Maria's struggles as a poor student, the Philippines also has considerable income and class inequality. Although rapid economic growth has made the Philippine economy a regional powerhouse, many rural provinces are lagging behind (Santa Maria is a poor province).

There are even some comments on how social media culture fetishes prominent use. Because of her family wealth, Santos Party Boys are able to become an Instagram "influencer" by demonstrating lifestyle. In the meantime, scrolling through Santa Maria Santos' Instagram feed can hardly afford a data plan – even for the poorest, living is extremely expensive.

It is rare to see so many social issues raised in the context of high school drama. Most American high school movies are based around sports teams and parties rather than abductions and drug lures, and Asian high school movies (such as My Old Class Meat or Young Style) are usually at the forefront. But with the illiteracy of social ailments in the Philippines, the dead children move beyond the love story of a serious cinema. Although on the surface you have a high school drama about dead children, it is still worthwhile for a fresh insight into Filipino society.

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Dead childrenPhilippines Filipino dialogue and English dialogue. Directed by Mikhail Reed. Running time 1 week 34 minutes. First released on December 1, 2019. Starring Sue Ramirez, Khalil Ramos, Marcus Patterson, Venice Lorena, Calvin Miranda, Gabby Padilla, John Silverio.

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