Dracula Untold Undoes Itself
Review by Daniel Rester
Dracula Untold turns to a different mix of history and fantasy rather than the pages of Bram Stoker, though Stoker’s work was also partly inspired by Vlad III (dubbed “Vlad the Impaler”). The film tells the fictionalized story of Vlad, with Luke Evans playing Transylvanian prince Vlad III Tepes.
The prince has a known past as a brutal warrior (even sticking bodies up on spears, hence the dubbed name), but he now has a family and wants peace. This period of peace comes to an end though when Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands Vlad to surrender 1,000 boys (including Vlad’s son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson)) to join his army. After betraying this offer, Vlad heads to Broken Tooth Mountain to encounter a demon named Caligula (Charles Dance).
Vlad makes a deal with Caligula to where he can have intensified speed, strength, and senses (and the ability to turn into a bunch of bats), but the power only lasts three days and Vlad will have an insatiable thirst for human blood. The deal comes with some other trickery from Caligula, but I won’t spoil it all. Essentially Vlad takes the deal so that he can save his wife (named Mirena (Sarah Gadon)) and child and the rest of the kingdom.
Dracula Untold comes to us from director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, all making their feature film debuts in their respective fields. While Shore has some talent behind the camera and Sazama and Sharpless have a few cool ideas in their screenplay, the movie never soars as a horror-action-fantasy film like it wants to. It instead comes up as a dud in all three genres.
Evans commits to the role and actually gives a pretty good performance here. He is easily the best thing going for the film, and it made me wish that the capable actor would get more leading roles. Dance is also effectively creepy as Caligula. But the rest of the cast is subpar, with Cooper’s talents especially wasted as a cookie-cutter bad guy. What’s worse is that none of the characters the actors play (except Evans) have much depth or interesting personality traits, making it hard to care for anyone when all the mayhem begins.
The movie contains a few eye-catching visuals and well-executed action moments (bats tossing men into the air is pretty entertaining). Shore does deliver some excitement here and there throughout the picture, and a few of the wide shots chosen are impressive. Two scenes also stand out: one where Vlad confronts Caligula and another where Vlad first learns of his powers (with the latter scene having a playfulness that is missing from the rest of the film).
Some quality things aside, though, Dracula Untold just never gets off the ground in a satisfying way. The film is only 92 minutes, but it uses its short time in the wrong way. We get too much repetitive action (some of it senseless due to the editing) and not enough story strength or character development to keep us invested. The actors also have to deliver some awful dialogue in super serious ways from time to time, making the picture laughably bad in a few spots. Yet the film doesn’t work in a so-bad-it’s-good way; instead it’s just dull (and dull-looking thanks to its gray color palette and poor lighting) and takes itself too seriously most of the time.
Dracula Untold didn’t make me hate it while watching it, and it seems like an okay TV watch or Blu-ray rental if you have the time, but I just wish more had been done with the Vlad story angle and the characters. Hopefully the filmmakers will develop such things further if Universal makes a sequel like it plans to do.
Score: 2 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, and some sensuality).
Runtime: 1 hour and 32 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 10th, 2014.