Dracula Untold (2014)
Directed by Gary Shore
Situated somewhere in the no-vampire’s land of Gothic romantic saga and PG-13 supernatural horror, Dracula Untold is a story that’s actually been told many, many, many times. Its blueprint seems most strongly etched in the 1993 Francis Ford Coppola version – at least, the origin story bits do. The flashbacks of battles, the moments of immortal angst, and even the bride’s far fall into the ravine are all pretty palpably lifted from the visuals of that film.
But we also get some cool twists, like Vlad dissolving into a murder of crows whenever he needs to fly. Or is it bats? I must say, the CGI is pretty shaky and things are dark. Fortunately, the computer-generated crock is shored up by otherwise lovely cinematography that’s brought to us by actual 35mm film.
Here’s what’s at stake in this version: It’s the 15th century and Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) — aka The Prince of Wallachia, aka The Impaler — is living happily with his sexy blonde wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and an adoring prepubescent son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson). Things are going great until the almighty Turks demand that Wallachia give up 1,000 of their young boys – including Ingeras — to fight as bodyguards to the Sultan Mehmet (Dominic Cooper). This, Vlad cannot abide.
So to stave off the terrible Turks, Vlad strikes a Faustian bargain with a local cave-dwelling demon (Charles Dance). Vlad is given invincible power for three days and… a craving for human blood he’s powerless against. But, says the demon, if he can somehow refrain from bloodsucking for three days, Vlad’s a victor and a free man. If not, then he changes places with the cave-dwelling demon and takes up the torch of awful immortality (not unlike the fable of the Grim Reaper – one person holds the position, until the next one can be fooled or cajoled into taking it).
There are many visually dazzling moments, but that a movie does not make. Luckily, most of those are bound together with the occasional morsel of emotional resonance (one does believe Vlad really loves his wife and son – the family has chemistry) and suspense (there’s a gripping scene between Vlad and Mehmet, in which Mehmet has discovered Vlad’s weakness and taunts him with it).
Clocking in at 90 minutes, Dracula Untold lasts just long enough to not overstay its welcome. Thin plot aside, the actors are all well cast, each of them looking as though they’ve just stepped out of a Late Renaissance painting. The craggy faces and lived-in expressions of Evans, Cooper, and Dance are especially convincing and bring to mind a time when men in vampire movies were not all blonde and sparkly. What’s more, the attention to detail in their armor, weaponry, and accoutrement is impressive and appreciated.
It’s good, but hardly destined for classic status, nor is it library-worthy. But if you’re looking for just a quick, fun, and forgettable vampire bite, then Dracula Untold doesn’t disappoint. At least it has more blood and gore than the R-rated Annabelle.