Vampires, specifically Dracula, have become one of the most frequently adapted literary monsters of all time, so it is odd that the main marketing point of Universal’s “Dracula Untold” is that the film tells the untold origin of Dracula.
What else could there possibly be to tell about Dracula? Well, after seeing “Dracula Untold,” one wishes the story was left in the dark.
“Dracula Untold” is the superhero origins story of the familiar vampire, except the classical horror elements associated with the character have been replaced in favor of gritty action and adventure.
In fact, the film is almost entirely action sequences, tied together by loose narrative tendons connecting the dull, repetitive action scenes. It is the definition of impatient storytelling.
The story this time is a very fictionalized retelling of Vlad the Impaler’s (Luke Evans) battle against the invading Turkish armies of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III (Dominic Cooper), who aims to attain 1,000 boy soldiers from Vlad’s kingdom for his growing conquest of Europe.
This prompts the vastly outnumbered Vlad to seek the help of a monster hidden in the mountains (Charles Dance) who gives him an incredibly plot-convenient proposition.
Vlad will have all the powers and weaknesses of a vampire, but only for three days, after which he can be human again unless he gives into the temptation and drinks human blood, which will make his curse eternal.
It is an incredibly dumb premise that serves as an excuse to have Evans single-handedly fight entire battalions using superpowers. There is not nearly enough time to establish any meaningful character development and explore the premise and history of the film. The action scenes are fine if not really unoriginal, which is a shame given all of the unique powers Dracula seems to have.
However, the action scenes showcase the biggest issue with “Dracula Untold,” which is that the film is a technical disaster.
Not only are the special effects in this film spotty at best, but also the cinematography is awful. This is the directorial debut for director Gary Shore and if this film is a representation of his cinematic eye, then he should hand it in.
The cinematography is a mess, constantly jumping into a fish-eye view, making the film hard to watch. On top of that, Shore relies too much on a bloom effect, which blurs out most of the screen.
All of this culminates in an awful viewing experience, which is disappointing saying that the film has a pleasing, if not wasted, visual aesthetic.
If there were any saving grace, it would be Dance’s Master Vampire (he is not named in the film), who brings a very heavy campiness to the role. His character design exudes signs of traditional horror, with heavy make-up doing a great job at hiding the actor.
It also helps that Dance is essentially playing Tywin Lannister in this role.
He is a schemer, a master manipulator and a brilliant shadow in the background that is essentially playing the game of thrones (his character literally states that he is a player in a bigger power game).
The most disappointing part of “Dracula Untold” is the potential looming over the entire film. With a larger focus on the world and mythology, an R-rating and a longer runtime, maybe the movie could have been good.
Instead, the movie removes the blood and sex from the legendary literary character. Unfortunately, “Dracula Untold” sucks more than just blood.