Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Gary Shore
Cast: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon
Dracula Untold is a weird flick. It’s not the dreadful reboot I feared in advance of viewing, but it sure as hell isn’t some kind of a masterpiece. Vlad Tepes, long known as the savage and always ruthless Vlad The Impaler, who loved to behead his foes and stick their severed noggins on large spikes, is suddenly illustrated as a great man who adores his family and his people. He’s an outright hero, not a feared monster as history paints him. He was known for his cruelty, and yet he’s portrayed as a loving chap in Dracula Untold. Strange indeed.
The story is pre-Dracula days. Meaning we’re fortunate enough not to be subjected to the millionth telling of Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker and Dracula’s strange triangle. The occurrences of this story unfold well in advance of those happenings, and that much is really interesting. Vlad’s people are under attack, the Turks are moving in, and their numbers are great enough to bowl over Vlad’s village without breaking a sweat. And that’s what it has come down to, as Tepes refuses to send 1,000 of their children to go live with and be trained by the Turks. Vlad’s just not letting the kids go, especially since he himself has a boy who would be called to duty. When he refuses, it ignites a war and Vlad is forced to make a decision, he’s either going to watch his people die in war, or he’s going to sacrifice his soul in order to be bestowed the power of the vampire. A power that will enable him to topple the Turks. As you know, Vlad makes the deal and the war is on.
I really like the creativity invested in this flick. There’s a very real, very valiant attempt at giving audiences something they haven’t seen before, and as a guy who is far beyond exhausted on the same “origin” story being told time and again, the unique angle is deeply appreciated. But that doesn’t mean it all works. The painting of a hero in Vlad seems preposterous. And there are some plot points that are just unbelievable, even to those with the loosest of disbelief systems. Those are chief among the picture’s problems, though there’re a series of issues that could be brought to light. I’m not too concerned with the small stuff (okay, I will also make a quick mention of the cheese factor, which is through the roof), as I really didn’t look into this one with much hope for a masterpiece. I’m not a fan of the action-oriented tweaks of Universal’s iconic monsters. I adore the films of yesteryear, and I’d love to see Universal stay true to the horrifying roots of these characters. Dracula wasn’t an action hero in 1931. The same can be said of The Mummy and The Wolf Man, two more pictures that have undergone some radical revisioning from Hollywood’s hot shots. These just aren’t supposed to be action flicks, dammnit. Oh well, it is what it is, and unless you plan on avoiding the franchises, it’s something to shut up and accept at this point, because it isn’t going to change as Universal moves forward with plans to reboot all of their major monster movies in similar tone.
Luke Evans is a pretty good Dracula. He’s a very capable guy, and he’s got the right kind of confidence to play a young Dracula. You’ve got to be able to juggle brutality and romanticism at the same time to pull Drac off, and Evans is pretty proficient. Charles Dance is also impressive, despite a limited role as the master vampire who transforms Vlad. It’s too bad the man doesn’t have more screen time, as he has the potential to be an extremely polarizing figure. Mehmed wasn’t too well cast, and Mirena was a rather bland personality, but Vlad’s son, Ingeras was quite likable, and there are a few Transylvanian soldiers who come across as endearing fellows. It’s something of a mixed bag, but in general, the cast works well. I’ll buy into Evans as Dracula in the future, though I’m not keen on the direction that Universal looks to be taking with this specific franchise.
Here’s the deal, if you’re into action flicks, Dracula Untold will have you entertained for 90 minutes. If you’re really hoping for a quality horror film, you’re going to be extremely disappointed. The mood hardly hints at the genre, and the gruesome visuals are somewhat sparse. The acting is strong for the most part and the CGI isn’t beaten (thank you Hollywood gods!) to the point I feared it would be. Dracula’s physical transformations showcase restrained execution and that too is respected. They didn’t overdo the look of the bloodsucker (what ruined the Fright Night remake), opting for minimal facial tweaks during the gnarly moments. There’re a lot of good things happening in this film, and there are probably just as many bad. It’s a mixed bag, and that leads me to feel this one is probably better classified as a potential guilty pleasure than a high quality horror film.