Late last year, exactly a month before the start of the new decade, Mikhail Red, backed by a steady stream of well-received films and international acclaim that came with it, marked a local industry milestone. Dead Kids, a genre-bending film loosely based on a disturbing true story of a teen heist gone wrong, was rightfully announced to be the first-ever Filipino film licensed by the streaming giant, Netflix—a historic undertaking like no other.
The project was an instant success, no small thanks to the global platform’s muscle that propelled it to cast a wider net on viewership and appeal—meriting legions of fans entranced by the easy likability of its characters and the compelling narrative that Red masterfully told.
To a commonly-perceived “conservative” viewing public, Dead Kids was everything parents would warn their young ones about–violence, sex, profanity, anarchy, even. It’s an unapologetic cautionary tale, unlike anything we have seen in recent years.
But still, in its no-holds-barred depiction of the youth today, Dead Kids triumphed in capturing the zeitgeist of the social media generation—their follies and fallibilities, their insecurities and inhibitions, their inner turmoil. The most interesting bit of it, deeply embedded in its narrative is a biting social commentary on class struggle, displaced sense of justice, and age-old tales of bullying, all hidden under the guise of a “coming-of-age” film.
You would think, packaging it so, that the film would drown in clichés and worn-out archetypes from every run-of-the-mill teenage flick known to man. Interestingly, the film didn’t pretend to be anything but a story about the teenage psyche, warts and all. But in its sincerity, and in staying true to this very DNA, it became so much more than an exposition of what today’s youth has evolved into, it stood its ground with a resounding message that roared and left a lasting impression. Dead Kids, in all its glory, uncovered the complexities of young adult life and how these many complications are but a microcosm of what chaos that persists in the big man’s world.
At the very heart of the film, the very thread that has intricately sewn Dead Kids into its impressive finish are the young actors who breathed life to the roles that social media has ruled to be one of the best ensembles seen in a film. “The best film”, even, punctuated by expletives.
“The big reviews that we have would be shared in our group chat. So, we would know what people think: the good and the bad. And with Twitter kasi, it is very easy to interact with people now, so they tag us and tell us how much they liked it. Wala pa namang nag-hate tweet sa’min”, Gabby Padilla, a girl of 24, answers in jest when asked about the phenomenon the film has turned out to be.
She furthers, however, that the kind of support the film has amassed, in turn, uncovered realities of how Filipinos perceive the industry in general. She shares, “Naging double-edged sword, in a way, ang Dead Kids being on Netflix kasi the very fact that a lot of people got to watch it, a lot of the comments are very surprised na kaya nating gumawa ng mga ganitong pelikula. They say it’s the best film they have seen. It is flattering, of course, pero when you think of it, that’s only because they haven’t seen a lot of films that have come out recently.”
Padilla, who quietly gained notoriety in cinema at a young age, beefed up her acting portfolio first through her affinity with the theater before jumping ship to acting on films. From then on, she started playing small roles in big ventures like Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, and Alone/Together, before taking on her string of notable roles for Samantha Lee’s Billie & Emma and an earlier collaboration with Red for a horror thriller, Eerie, sparring with generations of industry bigwigs, Bea Alonzo and Charo Santos-Concio.
“There are auditions where you feel good and you leave with a gut feel that you have a good chance of getting it,” she says about trying out for the role of Yssa, a rich, morally-ambiguous girl who got caught in the tangled web of deceit and juvenile sense of justice plotted by her boyfriend and his friends.
While Padilla’s screen time differed from what was required of the other’s characters, it’s the palpable strength and conviction in her portrayal that made her scenes fly—a mark of a mature actor. “When I found out that I got the role, of course, I immediately thought of who I am going to work with. And okay naman pala,” she looks at her co-stars questioningly before letting out a chuckle.
“When Dead Kids first came out, there’s so much attention on us. It’s good to enjoy it because you worked hard for it, but I always go back to gratitude. It’s always looking back on the people that helped you get there. I think the trouble is when you think you are self-made and you just worked by yourself to get to where you are,” Padilla opines on the potential perils of life consumed by a celebrity bubble. “That’s my personal rule, to just go back to gratitude and to anchor yourself in the real world. You have to invest in your actual self, not just in your celebrity self.”
Just like her, the theater served as Vance Larena’s springboard to the business. Having acted on a stage play before getting roles for television and films, Larena opens up about realizations about the industry now that he has actively been playing a part in its ecosystem.
He shares, “One thing that I have realized, now that I am in this business, there are a lot of good Filipino films na di pa napapanuod ng maraming tao, gaya ko. Di ko alam na yung iba maganda pala, ‘tas di ko napanuod, hanggang manghihinayang ako na hindi ko napanuod. Like ‘yung Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus at gaya nung Balangiga na sana nabibigyan ng chance na mapanuod ng maraming tao, the way Dead Kids had such an impact because it became accessible to many.”
At 24, Larena’s thrust to the scene is marked by a number of performances that have been well-received by critics and fans, who were almost always ready to declare him the next top dramatic actor this industry will see. From his role in Bar Boys, playing support to known mainstream actors Carlo Aquino, Rocco Nacino, Kean Cipriano, and Enzo Pineda, he went on to star in the film Bakwit Boys. Much to its critical acclaim, Larena showed the makings of an acting heavyweight, playing the stern figure head in a family of orphans living in the aftermath of a disaster.
In Dead Kids, he plays Charles Blanco, who leads the charge in toppling down the class bully from his seat of power through a plot that quickly became more complicated than they thought it would be. In it, Larena disappeared into the character and showed acting chops reminiscent of seasoned veterans—an intensity that is as haunting as it is captivating in delivering such sobering thoughts about the film’s underlying themes.
“Some actors, they cannot watch themselves. Ako, gusto ko’ng pinapanuod ‘yung sarili ko just so I would be able to check on myself. Kasi, you’re only as good as your last project. That way, naki-critique ko ang sarili ko para makita ko kung saan ako dapat mag-improve,” he shares about the growing attention he is receiving about his craft.
Among the lead cast of the film, Khalil Ramos is arguably the most recognizable name of the pack, having stepped into the industry earlier than most of them and with a mainstream exposure that already got him films, albums, ASAP appearances, and magazine features long before his fellow cast members did.
The 24-year-old multi-hyphenate has since carved an already formidable name as an actor, copping a slew of roles that proved his mettle, interestingly, walking to a different direction from the career route he originally set out to take a jab at. His entry to the business was, in fact, as a singer in the Philippine-version of well-known reality talent competition, Pilipinas Got Talent where he disarmed coliseums with his good-boy looks singing alternative rock anthems.
Ending the reality show strong with a runner-up finish at just 15 years old, followed quickly by a record, Ramos then traipsed into the world of acting with then showbiz royalties-in-the-making Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla, and Enrique Gil for his television debut, The Princess and I. Not longer after, he would appear in support roles for big features like She’s Dating the Gangster, A Second Chance, Honor Thy Father, Everything About Her, among others.
But it was in 2016 when Ramos took on a bold move and stripped himself free of the squeaky-clean image in Petersen Vargas’ 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten—yet another dark coming-of-age drama that opened a new sense of dynamism in his celebrity. Playing a typical student with a hidden darkness unbeknownst to many, Ramos went on to gain recognition for his acting, including nominations for his performance.
In Dead Kids, Ramos assumed the role of the comic relief in the character of Paolo, Yssa’s (Padilla) boyfriend whose free-spirited ways led him to tread murky waters with Blanco’s (Larena) plans. In itself, Ramos’ take as the reckless, foul-mouthed teenager was a revelation and a departure from his serious, brooding roles that we have seen him do in his repertoire.
“Most scenes that the fans loved are the ones that we have improvised, so talagang nakaka-satisfy kasi nanggaling sa’min yung creativity and tumawid sa audience and that’s the goal,” he reacts on the immensity of the fan love that the film received, translating to an onslaught of fan tweets and IG testimonials.
“Ang laking bagay talaga ng mga streaming platforms kasi there’s ease of access. You’re within arm’s reach to good materials out there. Like with Dead Kids, kung iba ang nangyari at naging theatrical release ito, it wouldn’t have been that huge, it would have been different kasi di sya masyadong accessible to many,” he raises a point about the industry’s shift to digital and how this has impacted his craft as an actor.
“When I started to do films, I can say that I saw where it was headed–yung direction of the medium of storytelling through motion pictures and feature films. I guess, us, we were put in a very good spot kasi ready for takeoff siya. Andaming nagsu-support pero it still needs a final push para lumipad talaga yung industriya and us, being there, ready and waiting for it to happen, is a big thing,” he added.
If there’s anyone from the group who lucked out, marveling on the film’s global presence, it would be newcomers Jan Silverio and Kelvin Miranda, both acting freshmen, who were shot from neophytes to actors of global exposure—an impressive feat that can only be aspired for by any actor, new or established.
While Miranda, 21 years old, is one of the newest names in the group, he is not necessarily a stranger to life in waiting under the klieg lights. Prior to Dead Kids, he has since appeared in a number of bit and supporting roles since 2016.
A simple cursory search of Miranda and it is easy to see that since then, he has been around and taking jabs at playing nameless roles in big hits like Vince, Kath & James and in small, independent ventures like Jose Bartolome: Guro, and Simplicity, before clinching support performances for films like Haunted Forest, Walwal, The Hopeful Romantic, and Class of 2018.
The year 2017 then saw him pocketing a string of roles for television, following GMA’s Artist Center taking him under his wing. Here, he has continued on exploring roles, support and lead, in different flagship programs of the network, even snagging a nomination as a fresh addition to legendary comedy show Bubble Gang.
But Miranda’s rise from obscurity has sped up tenfold since taking on the role of the film’s titular character, christened as the school genius but the wallflower, the socially invisible, and by the school’s pervading “teen psyche”, the very definition of the dead kid—a huge step up from a series of flings with the spotlight that characterized his early days as an actor.
But it is in his role as Mark Sta. Maria in Dead Kids that his acting chops were put to the test, portraying a jaded, young genius raring for an escape from his reality, with a quiet desperation and a magnanimity of emotions emanating from his eyes, even with so much restraint and subtlety.
“Yung makatrabaho ko yung mga beterano at makita kung gaano silang ka-sobrang professional and seryoso sa mga ginagawa nila. Yun yung mahahawa ka na kelangan mong gawin yung mga trabaho mo to the best of your ability. Every charater na ibbigay sayo, pagiisipan mo kung pano mo ipu-portray,” he shares matter-of-factly when asked about slowly making his mark in the industry.
“For me, lagi kong iniisip na walang ‘pinaka’. Laging may ‘mas’ sa lahat ng larangan. Laging may mas magaling. Yun ang nagkukontrol sakin na maging grounded at maging in touch sa values ko,” he furthers on his take on his growing celebrity. “Alam ko kung san ako nagsimula. Kahit san ako magpunta, kaya ko siyang balikan. Ganun ko lang tinitingnan yung career ko. Di ko tinitingnan kung san na ako nakarating, kundi kung san pa ako papunta, basta ginagawa ko ng maayos yung kelangan kong gawin ng step by step.”
Like Miranda, Silverio’s romance with the spotlight blossomed drastically with Dead Kids and he has been enjoying his young career tread on the fast lane since. In fact, in less than a month after the film’s release on the global platform, his follower-base on Instagram shot up from 1,200 to more than 34,000, which, in today’s metrics for stardom, is a career growth on steroids. And it is not showing signs of slowing down.
“I didn’t really expect the call since it’s been a month after my audition when they told me I got the part. Siyempre, sobrang saya ko. The waiting, of course, is nerve-wracking but after that, na-excite ako sa kung sino makaka-work ko,” he shared.
The wait is not new for someone like Silverio, though. After being a talent of the Archers Network, the official TV network of his alma mater, De La Salle University, Silverio took the modeling route, jumping from one casting to the next, where he landed jobs for several lifestyle brands like Fita and Mentos before dabbling on the role that would bring his proclivity to the media arts hit full throttle.
With a career that is not even a year old, Silverio’s rise to public consciousness is deeply rooted on his chance audition for the role of Uy in Dead Kids, a teenager seeking to exact revenge on the batch’s ego-tripping, self-proclaimed master. While ticking off boxes on how to portray this rich, angsty Chinese boy archetype, Silverio added depth to an already-overwrought character that added a layer of familiarity that the viewers found effective—notwithstanding the fact that he stood opposite contemporaries who have had more experience than him, a mark of great acting promise, to say the least.
“Considering that Dead Kids was my first project. Everything is really new to me. I didn’t know what to expect. Na-surprise ako na marami pa ring tao sa industriya na magiging totoo sayo, no matter how big they are in the industry. Marami pa ring sobrang mababait na artista. Nakaka-overwhelm kasi you think you’d be treated differently because you are a newbie and that’s not the case,” he says on his entry as a new actor making his way in the industry.
After Dead Kids, Silverio appeared in yet another Mikhail Red film, Block Z and on another streaming platform, iWant’s psychological horror film, Abandoned , with Beauty Gonzales. With his career snowballing to more roles on television and on films, Silverio plans to capitalize on the momentum and leave a mark that is undeniably his.
“I am still very new to the industry, siguro what I do is focus on myself and my growth. Sobrang hungry ako for improvement right now. So, di ko pa naiisip yung dami ng followers, the recognition of people who have seen the film. Gusto ko lang mag-improve pa on my craft,” he says makes a declaration.
With the rise of social media being both a boon and a bane in every field including that of entertainment. The industry has evolved to become both welcoming and nurturing to fresh, bold game-changers and unforgiving towards mediocrity and staleness of thought.
And while Dead Kids has been seen as a source of Filipino pride, it is a potent harbinger of the rise of the future of Philippine entertainment, both in front and behind the camera. With Vance Larena, Gabby Padilla, Kelvin Miranda, Khalil Ramos, and Jan Silverio, leading this charge, we know we will be watching.
Produced and overall direction by Leo Balante
Fashion direction and photography by Rxandy Capinpin
Styling with Leo Balante
Hair and Make-up by Nadynne Esguerra
Videography and editing by Jico Umali at QuickFilms
Shoot assistants Nielsen Esguerra and Joe Andy
Cover Art by Jericho Louise
Shot on location at Rxandy Capinpin Studio, San Juan
Made in collaboration with Netflix Philippines through Ad Pub Hub
Acknowledgments to Tyronne James Escalante, Cornerstone Entertainment Inc., and GMA Artist Center.