Film Review – Dracula Untold
Let’s get this straight right off the bat: Dracula Untold (2014) is not a very good movie. It’s a “gritty” take on the famous vampire legend, although it takes many liberties with the mythology. The story is goofy and implausible, the CGI murky and unconvincing, and when all is said and done, it’s just about as forgettable as what you had for lunch two days ago. If you’re still on the fence about whether you’ll see it or not, continue reading the rest of this review. But if you’ve already made your decision and are not going to see it, then you’re more than welcome to walk away now. I’ll wait until the room has cleared…
Are they gone? Ok look, everything I said back there was absolutely true. But if you’re still reading this, then you may have a slight interest in this movie. Well, let me tell you: even though this is a silly and absurd retelling of the popular legend, you know what else it is? It’s also a lot of fun.
There are certain films – despite their flaws – that hit you at the right place at the right time. That’s the experience I had with this. I came in with little expectation, and walked out surprisingly entertained. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The screenwriters (Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless) along with the director (Gary Shore) are all making their feature length debuts. It shows. Nearly all the characters are one dimensional, and the visuals are dark and ugly. But there is an energy that propels the piece beyond those problems. It’s like the filmmakers knew what they had and decided to throw everything against the wall to see what will stick. I’m sure a lot of critics and audience members will fault it for its stupidity, but that’s exactly what made it so enjoyable to watch.
A lot of credit should go to Luke Evans, who takes a break from the Hobbit films to tackle the main character here. His role of Vlad The Impaler/Dracula requires a lot of glaring and scowling, and his transformation into a swarm of bats is laughably bad. But Evans puts as much depth into the role as humanly possible. Vlad is the native prince of Transylvania whose people are being invaded by the evil Turks. In an attempt to protect his kingdom and family, Vlad makes a deal with a mysterious vampire (Charles Dance doing his best Max Schreck impersonation) and drinks a blood potion endowing him with supernatural powers. He inherits super strength, speed, and senses, and has sight that looks like a hybrid of x-ray and night vision. Vlad has the ability to fight off an entire army on his own, and during certain scenes he does just that. There is a catch with this newfound skill set however: the hunger for blood. If he falls to temptation and drinks blood, he’ll be doomed to remain a vampire for all time. How do you think that ends up?
The depiction of vampires (nowadays) has mostly been the romantic kind. The dreamy hunk and the angelic beauty falling for each other, with vampirism as a mere speed bump toward their inevitable love. This does away with all that, returning to the idea of vampirism as a curse. It poisons the soul, and rots away the humanity of an individual. Vlad makes his choice only out of desperation. It’s pretty tragic actually. He risks being torn away from his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and his son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) for eternity in return for their well-being. He literally turns himself into a demon to become a defender. In a way, this isn’t a horror film or a monster movie; it’s a superhero origin story. Vlad is not the protector his kingdom deserves, but he’s the one they need…or something like that.
The supporting characters are unmemorable. Dominic Cooper barely makes an impression as Mehmed, the leader of the Turks. Mehmed only plays an important role when Vlad needs someone to fight against during the climactic battle scene. Sarah Gadon, however, makes a stronger impact even though the character of Mirena is nothing more than the doting wife. If you don’t recall, Gadon made her presence felt earlier this year in Enemy, which is one of the year’s best films. Dracula Untold is nowhere near as good, but Gadon is effective with the part assigned to her. She has the ability to win our sympathy with a simple facial expression. She and Luke Evans look convincing on screen, and I bought into the relationship Vlad and Mirena had for their son and each other. Mark my words: Sarah Gadon is an actress to keep an eye on.
Can you keep a secret? Dracula Untold does not pass any test when it comes to basic movie storytelling. But what it does have is fervor and a “we don’t give a f*ck” attitude that makes it shockingly engaging. This is the type of film where a standalone grade does not give it justice. It isn’t going to win any awards, but it doesn’t have to. Go in, sit back, and enjoy the ride.