Dracula Untold (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
It is clear after about ten minutes into “Dracula Untold” that the film, directed by Gary Shore, despite its somber look, tone and mood, is meant to be taken lightly. It is an escapist, crowd-pleasing picture filled with occasional silly dialogue, physics-defying stunts accompanied by lack of immediate fatal consequences, and special and visual effects so over-the-top that at times it may look a bit like a video game. Despite its obvious shortcomings, it still offers good entertainment.
Vlad (Luke Evans), prince of Castle Dracula, notices a Turkish scout’s helmet washed downriver and comes to the conclusion that there is likely to be more of them. Hoping to put a stop to these foreign scouts, Vlad and a few of his soldiers climb a mountain, where the river begins, because there is a cave up there that is perfect for refuge. What they find inside, however, are not the scouts. In fact, what they come across is what used to be human, a powerful, fearsome vampire that has lived for hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of years (Charles Dance).
It offers a believable leading performance. Evans plays Vlad with such a high level intensity, from facial expressions to body language, that when an amusing, awkward line comes around, we are taken out of the picture for about a second and then back into it again immediately. It helps that the screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless gives the character with a clear purpose—to save his wife (Sarah Gadon), his son (Art Parkinson), and his people—so that we are able to follow his journey from man to monster despite some of the unintentional distractions.
The visuals are quite beautiful, particularly scenes that take place indoors whether it be inside luxurious chambers of Castle Dracula or a shadowy cavern where a monstrous thing awaits. It is appropriate that there is a feeling of fantasy to these scenes as if looking into a time and place only found in gothic fantasy novels. When the visuals are subtle—unlike the battle sequences, especially one that is so literal we actually watch one man fighting an army—they enhance the experience in such a way that we cannot wait what the next scene will look like, the small surprises ahead.
The film could have been improved upon by firmly establishing the importance of religion in the characters’ daily lives. There is an important scene halfway through which shows a critical act of betrayal, the so-called evil that must be destroyed in the name of religion. What could have been an emotionally rewarding or cathartic scene comes across as abrupt, poorly executed. This is mainly due to a lack of context.
“Dracula Untold” may not be a strong fusion of fantasy and history but it does offer an entertaining, visually pleasing, and well-acted origins story that leaves enough room for a sequel. The final scene, which sets up a possible next installment, however, is best left forgotten. It is without a doubt the weakest part of the picture and it left me with furrowed brow.