Movie Review: Dracula Untold

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Tells the tale of how war hero, prince, and father Vlad the Impaler became the monster of legend.

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Gary Shore, 2014

During a period of uneasy peace, Prince Vlad (Luke Owens) rules Transylvania with kindness, having left behind a violent and bloody past as a soldier. Given to the Turks by his parents as a boy, Vlad was trained to become a terrifyingly effective fighter, impaling his many victims on spikes. Now the Sultan, Vlad’s boyhood friend Mehmet (Dominic Cooper. Seriously) has come to collect a new crop of Transylvanian boys to join his army, including Vlad’s son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). Vlad’s wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) is none too pleased with this deal, and in order to keep his promises to her and protect his family, Vlad makes a deal with the metaphorical devil; the vampire that haunts a nearby mountain (Charles Dance). Once he undertakes the ritual and inherits enormous power, the rules are simple; if he resists drinking blood for three days, he becomes a man again. If not, he will forever be a monster.

Dracula-Untold-IMAX-Poster

Well, I say simple, but there’s a great deal of talk from Charles Dance’s master vamp about pawns and a war between good and evil and all kinds of expositiony nonsense that only fills in time in this sparsely plotted but enjoyable film. There isn’t quite enough story to fill in the hour-and-a-half runtime, but who needs story when you have Luke Evans’s arms? Kidding aside, the story is simple but pretty effective, a metaphorical representation of a man’s battle with his inner monster. Evans is a solid lead, brooding and handsome, and Sarah Gadon is a surprise as his wife. No retiring flower, she is an equal partner in their relationship and is never robbed of agency, and though the movie is far from a paragon of feminism, she does a good job for someone I thought was his daughter when I first saw her. (Which is actually a little unfair, since he’s actually only 7 years older – movie make-up magic!) Much less impressive is the awful whitewashing, casting Dominic Cooper in eyeliner and fake tan, using a terrible accent as a Turk.

The movie has a particular aesthetic, gritty grey contrasted with vivid reds for Dracula and warm oranges for his hearth and family. It seemed like the director and cinematographer were taking the opportunity to try some different things to varying degrees of success – sword-reflection POV (not great), swooping bat POV (pretty great), vamp heat-sensing POV (awkwardly tech-heavy, like an updated version of Predator-vision). The turning-into-a-bunch-of-bats effect is nifty every time, and there some other really cool little touches and scenes that I think vampire movie buffs will enjoy. The ending is pedestrian and obviously predictable, given that this is an origin story of Dracula (here represented as both “son of the dragon” and “son of the devil”). There’s a reason why the more interesting story of Mina and Drac is the popular narrative, but this is a pretty fun little movie nonetheless.

Dracula Untold on IMDb

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