Review – Dracula Untold
by John Seedhouse
Vampires are a thing… The US show True Blood gave us 7 seasons of insane blood sucking, swamp grass vampire-explodo-porn. Twilight gave us emo-centric miserabilist teenagers ad-nauseum and for this child of the 80s, Lost Boys gave us Keifer “Mullet/24” Sutherland and a dubious cover of The Doors’ “People are Strange”. All that said however, has anyone reading this review ever (be honest) managed to fight their way through the dirge that is Bram Stoker’s story? Really? I don’t believe you at all. It’s awful. The narrative is patchy and the exposition is like watching blood congeal after taking one too many asprins. All this brings us to Dracula Untold.
Dracula Untold, wisely, pays zero heed to Stoker’s assault on the vampire lover. This is the tale of the who and why of the man behind the monster. This could be dangerous territory – a little bit like studying A-level history and only doing the boring bits before the cool stuff happens. It does make for a very moody and introspective poster though…
Debut director, Gary Shore, gives it a damn good go with the moodiness. There are some solid lifts from Chris Nolan and Frank Miller in the mix but that is probably no bad thing. Dracula is dark subject matter and the trials, rise and fall of Luke Shaw’s, Vlad Tepes from child warrior to prince to warrior are well suited to the approach. Shaw’s role was originally cast to Sam Worthington and there are hints of his Macbeth echoed in the development of the character.
This is the story of why and how. Dracula Untold tells the tale of what makes a man so desperate to sacrifice his soul for his ideals. Can we feel any sympathy or empathy with a reformed mass-murderer? We have 90 minutes to decide.
Last year, I took Mrs L to London for Halloween. We went to see Wicked. It was very good (despite the fact that I hate that sort of musical thing) and I got into the whole idea that there was another side to the Witch. In some ways that is what is going on here in Dracula Untold. There is exposition and some really laboured emotional cues (involving Vlad’s son) and the music is replaced by lots of action sequences. Shaw alternates pouts, grimaces and whirling sword strokes. He does this pretty well.
Brit actor, Dominic Cooper, returns to the vampire trope for the first time since Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – clearly a case of not once-bitten, twice shy, given how dire that was. His Mehmed (the Sultan of the Turks’ army) is the counterpoint to Shaw’s Vlad – children forced by war into manhood – the warrior to the peace seeker. Cooper is a good actor. He doesn’t get that many opportunities to shine here which is a shame.
Where Nolan and Miller get darkness right – the long build up, the hints in the shadows – Shore rushes and the end result misses as much as it hits. He veers into hack territory visually and has left some very cringe-inducing dialogue in place. I defy anyone not to want to shout at the screen when Vlad, upon seeing his hand heal in the river says to nobody other than the fish “that is useful”. Really. They didn’t think to leave that nugget of rubbish on the cutting room floor. 3 words manage to screw up what had been quite a decent build up. If you are over 35 and watching this then I would suggest that you head for a loo pit stop before he wakes up in the water and treat it as a directors cut moment. Shore is also quite fond of the pan up to the sky shot. It’s an okay shot to use to move storyline sequences but sadly it becomes more of an eye roll than a dramatic device – you can almost hear the tooth sucking noise.
So, it’s all a bit rubbish then is it John? Are you just being down on it because it isn’t a super-hero movie?
It isn’t bad. It isn’t great. It’s a vampire movie about the original toothy monster and it has elements of decent story and acting. It is 90 minutes and actually that is probably 15 minutes shy of being the right length in the hands of a more experienced director. As films go, it is not a bad debut. As an addition to a trope that is reasonably on the zeitgeist then it is not the pinnacle of the mountain. It is a damn site better than, the very bad, Van Helsing and is worth a watch on a Wednesday night. It would be a better movie with less of the super-hero elements to it, more characterisation and less punchy, hitty, slashy.
What about Charles Dance?
Charles Dance, in a cave, with some bones, and some blood, and some absolute tosh about wars and debts and the future… Vlad takes the most idiotic route up a hill to have a drink with Dance’s whatever he is character. Clearly an optimistic studio exec is thinking sequel at this point. Still, it’s Charles Dance and that is probably worth going for anyway.
Should I go?
It’s nearly Halloween. You will have a laugh. Expect average and come away pleasantly surprised. You won’t hate yourself for going. Mrs L thought it was good, and she does like a vampire movie. It has man-totty and vampires so as a date movie you probably won’t go too far wrong.
Bit of hack, bit of slash.
2 pints of blood and a packet of crisps.
John was intending to review a different film but confused October with November. John is a bit of an idiot but it all worked out in the end. John does things online in various places such as here and here. He is upset at the prospect of the Giant Screen ceasing to be and would like you to go along and see a movie there while you still can and also say hi to the great staff who do a smashing job.
This review first appeared on the Millennium Point blog. Link Here.