a critiQal film review Dracula Untold (2014)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: In 15th-century Transylvania, Vlad III (Evans), prince of Wallachia, is known as a just ruler. With his beloved wife, Mirena (Gadon), Vlad has brokered a prolonged period of peace and ensured that his people are protected, especially from the Ottoman Empire. However, when Sultan Mehmed II (Cooper) demands 1,000 of the country's boys, including Vlad's son, for his army, Vlad makes a deal with a monster that will enable him to defeat the Turks - but cost him his humanity.

694 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 28s)

We stumbled across a movie recently we had forgotten entirely about: Dracula Untold, the prequel story to Bram Stoker’s famous vampire. Since we had never actually gotten around to seeing it yet, we decided now was the time. After all, it’s been a little bit since last we saw a vampire. But, would Dracula Untold – a story we already know the end to – still manage to surprise? Or would this be just another cash-in attempt by Universal on one of it’s classic monsters?

Luke Evans has been slowly making a name for himself as a supporting actor, popping up in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and Fast & Furious 6 (2013). With Dracula Untold, he has a chance to step into leading man status…but he may not have picked the best film to do that in.

Still, for showing off his acting talents, it’s not bad. He gets to express a variety of emotions, from joy to haunted pain, and he does so easily, making the viewer gravitate toward his character. However, there’s a bit of a hesitation on our part, as we already know he’s going to “go over to the Dark Side,” to coin a popular phrase. The fact he can pull viewers in at all is a testament to his acting chops.

Sarah Gadon, on the other hand, is both flighty in her grasp of the situation, and the voice of morality in his head. Unfortunately, her lady-in-white performance seems like it’s going to end badly (what else would turn such a noble warrior to evil?), and she seems to be walking towards the gallows the entire film.

Charles Dance (where did he go for the 2000’s, anyway?) puts on a chilling performance as the O.V. (Original Vampire) of the pic, but sadly, his part is much, much too short. Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, is the silly villain, and his exhortations (and inevitable final confrontation) seem to drag on much too long.

Much of the film seems to be built around Gary Shore exploiting one specific power of this classic vampire – his ability to turn into a bat swarm, and use other bats to wreak havoc on his enemy. Gone is the suave and seductive nature of Dracula – instead, he’s more of a remote bat handler, who can become one with them at will. Sure, it’s fun to watch a swarm of bats plunge into an army like a waterfall hitting a rock, but, with Dracula Untold, it feels like their should be more tricks to this pony than just the one.

Unfortunately, with an origin story, viewers already know how it’s going to end, and the storyteller needs to make the journey there the fun part. Otherwise, why would we go to just watch a retread? That should be a lesson learned from the PSYCHO frame-by-frame remake, if nothing else was. While the bat swarm is fun, it gets old quickly, and the viewer realizes there isn’t the more they were expecting.

And then there’s the incongruities. it seems like the filmmakers shot this with cinematography in mind, flashing over important plot points just so they can set the right scene. For example, the final battle involves both “hero” and “villain” fighting it out over a glittering floor of silver – yet the only ones who know about the weakness to silver are either dead or have never communicated as such to the “villain”. Things like that abound throughout, making viewers think that these plot points may have been cut just so the filmmaker could devote more time to that glittering sequence.

Still, Luke does do a good job of getting the viewer involved in his character, and his astonishment when he first does his bat-swarm-morph is fun to watch, the cinematography for some of the sequences is superb (complete with the mist rolling over the battlefield like a living organism), but, with Dance getting short-shrift as the old vamp, and Dominic Cooper failing to deliver anything resembling an evil villain, Dracula Untold falls far short of the lofty goal of giving viewers an origin story for this classic villain that viewers can stand up and cheer about.

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