Film Review: Dracula Untold

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The Bat Man

The question with any new spin on Bram Stoker’s infamous sucker is whether it’s a tale that needs to be told. Gary Shore’s debut surely didn’t, as the ground it covers was trod at greater speed and with more style in the prologue to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie, with the Godfather director having composer Wojciech Kilar and some vintage in-camera effects on his side. Shore’s film, unlike Coppola’s, has no interest in marrying classic material with classic technique, rather it’s very much a movie of the now: it’s saturated in conspicuous CGI, privileges histrionics above atmosphere, and forgets that a good composer can be a character in the film too. Still, Shore has Luke Evans, and that’s a pretty good start.

Mashing up medieval rebellion movies like Braveheart and Ironclad with a Peter Jackson-esque fantasy template, Untold keeps the titular vampire in the 15th century. When we meet him, filled out by Evan’s bulk, he’s Prince Vlad the Impaler, one time slave of the evil Turkish Sultan who took him as a child and forced him to slaughter the Ottoman’s enemies (lest we have trouble rooting for him). A temporary peace with the Turks has allowed Vlad to return home and enjoy being a family man. Wife Sarah Gadon’s good enough to keep her cleavage on permanent display, while curly haired son Art Parkinson talks of riding and other boyish pursuits. Indeed, everything would be grand in the Princedom of Transylvania if Turkish warmonger Dominic Cooper, buoyed by the mysterious deaths of a few scouts, wasn’t intent on stealing all the children from Vlad’s kingdom, son and all, and forcing them to become the next generation of sword fodder.

Consequently the stage is set for Vlad’s Faustian pact with wizened nosferatu Charles Dance: a deal that will grant him the full suite of powers we associate with Dracula in exchange for…well, perhaps releasing Dance from his torment if he manages not to succumb to bloodlust after three days? It’s a strange arrangement as it’s not clear why Dance would agree to it if he wasn’t one hundred percent sure that Vlad would give in and turn eternal beast, or why, if he was so sure, he hadn’t shared his blood with somebody sooner.

But you don’t go to Dracula Untold anticipating internal logic and that’s just as well. We’re asked to accept that the Turks would press on to Vlad’s kingdom despite reports that the newly demonic prince had murdered the first 1,000 soldiers single handed (“send 100,000!” demands Cooper in response), along with oddities like Dracula transforming from a human to a colony of bats and back again, clothes and all. Did each bat hold a strip of fabric?

The real problem with Shore’s movie, however, is that it lacks any palpable tension or sense of buildup. Early scenes, plotted to set up the distrust between Vlad and the Turks, and the imperious attitude of Cooper contrasted with Vlad’s pacifist tendencies, are given cursory treatment. Without that investment in character and the run up to war, there’s the sense we’re watching a mechanically plotted b-movie in which all the effort has been channeled into stylised effects sequences. Bat lovers are well served by this approach – there’s pixelated winged mammals galore, but fans of Bram Stoker’s monster will feel shortchanged.

Directed by: Gary Shore

Country: US

Year: 2014

Running Time: 92 mins

Certificate: 15 for Paul Kaye, Art Parkinson's hair and few Turkish delights.

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