2014, PG-13, 92 mins.
2014, PG-13, 92 mins.
Luke Evans as Dracula (Vlad Tepes) / Sarah Gadon as Mirena / Dominic Cooper as Mehmed / Art Parkinson as Ingeras / Charles Dance as Master Vampire / Diarmaid Murtagh as Dimitru / Paul Kaye as Brother Lucian / William Houston as Cazan / Noah Huntley as Captain Petru / Ronan Vibert as Simion
Directed by Gary Shore / Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless
At this point in my life, films about vampires have to work some serious overtime to get me invested in them. There have been so many innumerable adaptations and interpretations of Bram Stoker’s iconic literary creation over the last century that I’ve nearly lost my – ahem! – thirst for any new film that wishes to re-imagine the most infamous undead bloodsucker in history.
problem, I guess, with DRACULA: UNTOLD is that it faces the very daunting
creative challenge of making the titular character seem fresh and
invigorating again. Trying to find some sort of intriguing angle to such a
celebrated figure can really backfire (see I,
FRANKENSTEIN from earlier this year…shivers), but DRACULA:
UNTOLD deserves some modest points for originality. However, this
better-than-expected vampire-central film still has its share of issues.
akin to Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed 1992 film of
Stoker’s novel, DRACULA: UNTOLD tries to marry actual history and the
source material’s origins into one cohesive whole.
The film chronicles Vlad the Impaler and his war against the
Ottoman Empire and his almost super hero-like origin of being transformed
into the nosferatu that we all know. Even though there are sprinkles of Stoker’s iconography
throughout DRACULA: UNTOLD, the resulting film has more affinity to the
comic book genre than the horror one, which is not entirely a bad thing if
one is aiming for innovation here. For
at least half of the picture, DRACULA: UNTOLD does a surprisingly decent
job at world and mythology building in the way it establishes the
particulars of its characters and how Vlad makes the eerie transformation
into his eternally doomed monster. Unfortunately,
at a too-brisk-for-its-own-good 90-plus minutes, the film feels like its
rushing itself to a hastily cobbled together conclusion that seems more
interested in establishing a franchise and sequels than with telling a
self-contained story. Sigh.
least the film casts the uniformly solid Luke Evans in the lead, whom
gives Dracula a gnarly intensity – and an undercurrent of self-doubt and
sadness – that the role requires. The film begins by introducing us to Vlad Tepes, who spent a
majority of his childhood training and serving in the Turkish army.
Flashforward to the present and Vlad has been given the
opportunity to return to his Transylvanian home after a prolonged
series of horrific war campaigns. Just
as he’s re-acquaints himself with his wife (Sarah Gadon), Prince Vlad is
confronted by Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), the sultan of Turkey that has
decided that he wants something more from Vlad than his typical monetary
tribute to keep the peace…he wants 1000 boys (including Vlad’s son) to
train for his army.
Vlad will not have any of this and opts to go to war head-on with Mehmed,
but his troop numbers are small and mostly ill prepared for the battles to
come. As a result of his
desperation, Vlad decides to seek out a supernatural creature that he has
come in contact with before (Charles Dance, positively radiating sinister
creepiness here) and asks him for help.
The vampire makes Vlad a deal: he will impart on him all of his
powers to help him with defeating the Turks…but at, yes, the cost of his
soul and humanity. Seeing no
other way out, Vlad agrees and does indeed become a creature of the night
with all of the obligatory vampire powers in tow (as well as a host of new
ones). After a series
of swift and stunning victories that Vlad single-handledly wins all on his
own versus the Turkish army, his people back home learn of his new
abilities and systematically turn on him, making Vlad’s desire for
“peace” all the more difficult to attain.
a pure visual level, DRACULA: UNTOLD looks stellar, especially with some
of its old school aesthetic flourishes of utilizing matte paintings and
other techniques to add visual dynamism to the location shooting.
The film is suitably dark, dreary, and ominous throughout, and
director Gary Shore (making his feature film debut) seems to have a knack
for crafting the world of DRACULA: UNTOLD with just the right balance of
historical detail and supernatural wonderment (he also shows remarkable
restraint and tact for not making or upconverting the film for 3D, which
would have made the film’s already murky palette all but indecipherable
otherwise). DRACULA: UNTOLD
suffers a bit from its limp PG-13 rating (vampire films need to be
hard R), but
Shore gets considerable mileage out of his tamer rating in terms of
pushing the boundaries of blood and mayhem that's usually acceptable under a
PG-13 moniker. DRACULA:
UNTOLD may be one of the more violent PG-13 films I’ve seen.
has fun as well with envisioning the epically staged battle sequences,
especially when the full lethality of Vlad’s newly acquired powers come
to the forefront (for example, he can turn himself into a flying bat
battalion or, when compelled to, mentally control thousands of other bats
and then morph them into impossibly large missiles on the battlefield,
destroying thousands of soldiers in the process…coooool).
The CGI used here is seamlessly integrated into the action,
and never feels obtrusively showboaty.
There are times, though, when Shore does make the mistake of
over-editing sequences to the point of inducing headaches, a mournful
trait that has befallen far too many new action-oriented directors these
of the cast is game here, especially the aforementioned Evans and Dance,
the former of which does a good job of carrying the mantle of a character
that carries with it over a hundred years of literary and cinematic
baggage; Evans does what he can to make it his own and doesn’t look
back. Every scene involving
Dance’s mountain cave dwelling creature gives DRACULA: UNTOLD a much-needed jolt of frightening intensity.
Too many of the other characters, though, are kind of marginalized
by the film’s scant running time, like Vlad’s wife and, in particular,
the character of Mehmed, who is never developed as a satisfactory adversary throughout the film.
Cooper also seems laughably miscast as a Turk in the film; he
appears ill at ease in most scenes, which only robs the film of the menace that
his character is supposed to be building.
There are other things that DRACULA: UNTOLD glosses over, like the whole past mass murdering exploits of Vlad, which are more of an afterthought in the film that’s lazily discarded when the script requires it. Still, there’s much to admire in this myth-busting, but somewhat Stoker-faithful vampire mishmash. I guess that I would aptly define DRACULA: UNTOLD as an admirable misfire. The film takes great relish in attempting to re-imagine a 19th Century character for 21st Century consumption. In the end, I just wanted to see this new Dracula film universe fleshed out a bit more. There are strong concepts here for the making of a grand vampire action thriller, which makes it all the more disappointing that DRACULA: UNTOLD rushes out of the gate and doesn’t patiently let them simmer more.