Hi, Suzanne here…
We all know the basic story of Count Dracula as told by Bram Stoker, but in Dracula Untold, director Gary Shore aims to provide further insight into the reasons a man would choose to be evil. In spite of the big budget that went into creating this film, the movie falls short of that goal and even the scare we come to expect from vampire films.
After years serving as a Janissary for the Ottoman Empire, Vlad Dracul (Luke Evans) returns to Transylvania with the goal of protecting his land from reach of the Turks. But after many years of peace, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), Vlad’s long ago childhood friend is now Sultan and looking to conquer Europe. He hopes to take a thousand Transylvanian boys for his renewed Janissary corp as well as Vlad’s son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) as his royal captive.
Vlad is torn, not wanting to succumb to the desires of a much more powerful nation, but he agrees to Mehmet’s wishes in order to keep peace. While exchanging his son with Turkish troops the pleas of his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and the taunting of a Turkish commander push Vlad over the edge as kills the Turkish entourage and sends his wife and son back to the castle.
Knowing that Mehmet will now destroy his country if he does not do something drastic, Vlad goes to the creature in the mountain – a Master Vampire (Charles Dance) he has previously run into – and asks for a way to have the power to protect his people. This vampire senses Vlad to be worthy of these powers and agrees to share his blood with the warning that if Vlad will thirst for human blood, and if he drinks it in the next three days, he will be a vampire forever.
While taking on Mehmet’s armies, Vlad’s powers prove to be the salvation his people needed, but when his wife falls and lays dying during the conflict, she encourages Vlad to drink her blood to extend his powers and save their son. Both know this will damn him to live as a vampire for eternity, but it is done and Ingeras takes the throne as Vlad takes on the name Dracula and goes into exile.
This is not a very scary vampire movie. There are few moments of apprehension when Vlad first faces the Master Vampire in the mountains and when he returns there, Charles Dance goes beyond his Tywin Lannister menace to be truly creepy. However, with a PG13 rating, it seems that this is all the fright we can hope for out of the origin story.
Dracula Untold also carried a heavy price tag of $100 million, and it is obvious this budget went into special effects and CGI. None of this can makeup for a loose story line. There are some spectacular visual elements and the scenes where Vlad goes from man to swarming bats back to man are flawless. It’s interesting to watch in that sense, but in others dull. Fight scenes seem mild or hurried when they should seem vicious. There are countless murders and battles, but a noted lack of gore that underwhelmed even this reviewer (not a huge fan of the gorey stuff). Ultimately the emotion of some of the acting and action and the lack of the horror that vampires should inspire does not justify the expense of the special effects.
Finally, as an origin story, Dracula Untold does not really add to our understanding of Dracula. Or if it does, all it paints him as is a man who claims he is interested in saving his own kingdom as he acts more like he’s just trying to save his own son. Both he and Mirena make decisions that are more based on the welfare of their family than anyone else – even when it means damning other souls to do so. When Gary Oldman played the character more than 20 years ago, he came off as more sympathetic – we somehow wanted to like Dracula even as he killed people and plotted to steal away a married woman. This version doesn’t make us love him in spite of his selfishness. It really just makes us thing, “You know this guy is kinda hot.”
The movie ends with a definite opening for a sequel. The Master Vampire following Dracula and announcing, “Let the games begin,” as Dracula has just met a woman who appears to be Mirena reincarnate. It’s likely with the popularity of vampire films, that sequel will be made, but the series has a lackluster start. I’m giving this two stars, though I’ll admit. I’m a sucker for vampires and probably would have seen the movie no matter what the review.
2 out of 5 Stars
– Suzanne Loranc