Origin stories have always made for immensely appealing viewing to me. Whether it be in film, literature, or even television; something about the backstory and learning how the character’s personality, afflictions and psychology came to be, is wildly intriguing. This insight adds depth to a character and enriches the narrative, to the point where I find myself longing to know the origins of a character when I visit the cinema. So when presented with the chance to get a little, albeit embellished, backstory on the time-honoured anti-hero, Dracula, I readily obliged and hoped ‘Dracula Untold’ would not betray my enthusiasm. To proclaim that Dracula is, in fact, the great Romanian prince and warrior, Vlad the Impaler, was a bit of a stretch. However, given that Vlad’s patronymic namesake of Dracula was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic novel of that same name, it’s easily forgivable and helps create a smooth transition into 15th century Romania – a place I am admittedly quite unfamiliar with.
Luke Evans (The Hobbit) nails our main character Vlad the Impaler as he suffers under the oppression of the Ottoman Empire, until his awakening as the evil, vampire beast and commander of nature’s spirits, Dracula. Admittedly, the writing is extremely cliché and puts his character into a handful of spots that seem absurd for a formidable being like Vlad the Impaler. Likewise, Dracula’s antagonist, Mehmed the Conqueror, is a Turkish King played by Dominic Cooper, who’s making quite a name for himself as an antihero after his similar villainous turn in Need for Speed as Dino Brewster. Cooper again delivers a subtly strong performance within this film, but unfortunately falls victim to being tragically underwritten.
The battle scenes, especially where Dracula takes over in his mystical, evil, flurry-of-bats mode, are fantastic; ripe with violence and the kind of dark, non-cheesy fighting we all love. Meanwhile, the film is, at times, particularly harrowing. There’s one sequence which deserves special mention, in which the entirety of Dracula’s citizens have been ravaged, and upon discovering this, the vampire prince brings his people back to life with a few hearty chomps to the neck. Dracula then leads his newfound army of vampiristic village people (nothing to do with the people who brought you the ‘YMCA’) into battle against the Ottoman Empire’s armies, unleashing devastating, demonic revenge in the least polite way possible. That whole scene is rather graphic for horror-averse cinemagoers like myself, so unless you have a penchant for gore and violence, you might want to shield your eyes.
As I digest the whole viewing experience, sadly the one thing which stands out from ‘Dracula Untold’ is the exceptionally abysmal plot. Add to this the non-existent romantic chemistry between Dracula and his supposed wife and I struggle to commend any tangible aspect of the filmmaking process for the film. Director Gary Shore could and should have done a lot better, but neglecting to develop the character of Master Vampire (Charles Dance – Game Of Thrones) is a major pitfall. Instead of adding depth to an intriguing character arc, this role is criminally overlooked. The portrayal of the Transylvanian devil has certainly come a long way since F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, but in this instance I’m afraid we’ve all seen far better.
DIRECTOR: GARY SHORE
STARRING: LUKE EVANS, DOMINIC COOPER, SARAH GADON