Dracula Untold Film Review

My major problem with the modern vampire character is that it does too much to try and explain this evil. The idea behind the vampire was fear, and the idea behind fear was that we couldn’t understand it. Twilight dumbed vampires down so much, that all fear was lost. I discussed this briefly with my review of Warm Bodies (2013), and I think the mainstream is once again attempting to recreate this image of horror. However, writers and studios will still seek to flesh out all monsters to make them understandable and sympathetic. The same happens with Dracula Untold, as Gary Shore attempts to “realistically” explain the past of the historic Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, as a man who, perhaps, cares too much for his Transylvanian people. While the special effects are quite exquisite, Dracula Untold is less than so.

Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) is taken as boy to be fostered within the Turkish Empire. Growing up, he distinguishes himself in battle, with his ruthless and brutal approach to his foes. After he earns a name for himself impaling his conquered, Vlad returns home to Transylvania to rule as prince. Years later, the Transylvanians still pay tribute to the Turkish. The countrymen soon find that there are Turkish scouts infiltrating the nation. However, the unit has recently been killed by an unknown entity, dwelling in a mountainous cave. While investigating the deaths, Vlad himself is nearly killed by the monster, but escapes. Returning to the castle, the Turkish confront Vlad about the lost scouts and threaten to destroy the country if 1000 boys are not surrendered to the Turkish army. Transylvania, possessing only a small force, must comply. Vlad, however, seeks out the monster in the mountains, believing there to be a source of power for the prince and country.

This film is actually supposed to be the first in a new franchise of Dracula films. Unfortunately, while it tries to lend itself to this, it reeks of laziness and poor execution. To start, Vlad’s characterization bounces between protagonist and antihero far too often. The character is inconsistent, and unjustly so. If you’re trying to explore a famous character, why be so feeble? Furthermore, shouldn’t there be enough intertextual connections to create a cohesive and layered character? I think writers Sazama and Sharpless perhaps got caught up in trying to make this character too sympathetic. Allow us to truly see what sort of menace this man/monster actually is.

Luke Evans, I like. He is a leading man that pulls you in no matter what the role. Performing as Vlad the Impaler, on the other hand, Evans did not have the engagement that he SHOULD have. He played it shallow and he played it dull. Charles Dance, fresh off the Game of Thrones set, was magnanimous as per usual. While it is harsh, not much of the rest of the cast merited a response. Dominic Cooper’s year has gone from bad (Need for Speed) to worse, continuing to portray a string of hapless villains.

You can say of any half-hearted film that if full effort was made, the film would have been good. If the writers were totally committed, then the story would have been concise and clear. That is a cop out that I sometimes fall back. In the context of Dracula Untold, it is cop out to the highest degree. For a reboot film that is or was going to be franchises, there should have been at least 50% more effort on the part of the producer, writer and, to a lesser extent, director. I will say this for sure: he handled action and tense scenes really well. Special effects look effectively done. However, a poor box office and critical return will ensure that a Dracula Untold 2 is never told.

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October 8, 2014
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