Should you sink your teeth into the legendary vampire’s origin story?
Vampire lore has undergone countless iterations over the years, but none endures quite like Dracula. The original Bram Stoker novel portrayed a doomed and lonely man trapped in a cursed body. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the character’s plight was all the more tragic for him having been so misunderstood.
This tragic tone still pervades throughout Dracula Untold, even though the package is wrapped up in copious amounts of CGI violence that slightly undermines the depth of characterisation. As an action-fantasy film, it delivers everything you would typically expect, with a few added twists.
Dracula’s first encounters with the mythical master vampire are fraught with tension and dread, mainly due to Charles Dance’s darkly charismatic performance as the cave-bound villain. His scenes are short-lived, which is a shame as he is brimming with sinister potential that never fully manifests.
Dracula (Luke Evans) goes to the ancient vampire to gain his powers in a desperate attempt to save his people from the marauding Turks. His days as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ are long over, but the Turkish conquest forces him to once again become “the monster that his people need.” He must also resist the urge to feed on human blood, lest he turn permanently into a scourge of the night and cause the undoing of all around him. Underneath this all, sits the simple story of a loving father and husband going to any lengths to protect his loved ones.
Evans’ performance as Dracula captures his family-man persona, whilst we glimpse brooding spurts of the monstrous nature arising inside his psyche. In spite of his dark side, he remains very much the noble hero of the story, even at the peak of his inner conflict. It’s a shame to say that this conflict is often relegated in favour of the more action-heavy sequences throughout the second and third acts. This means his personal torment only ever really serves as background context rather than a key driving force in the story.
That’s not to say that the action is without its charm. Seeing Dracula shape-shift between human and cluster-bat form as he decimates entire battlefields is a sight to behold. However, it does begin to wear out its welcome when it becomes clear that he is vastly superior to all of his foes. His vulnerability to silver is eventually exploited during penultimate scenes, but this weakness is far too superficial to feel significant.
The film’s Romanian backdrop combines CGI compositions with location filming to create sweeping mountain vistas and deep, cragged valleys. Dracula’s castle has plenty of gothic character, although it would have been good to see even more. The colour palette throughout is also too cold and dim to do proper service to the scenery. The original Dracula film played expertly with contrast and depth in its lighting, but Untold seems to play it safer in the visual department, with nothing really standing out and much of its gothic character lost somewhere in the process.
Dracula Untold is an enjoyable, action-packed and tightly paced film that merits a watch for anyone who can overlook its missed potential and occasional absurdities. It’s not nearly the origin story that a fan of the gothic source material would have hoped for, but it does at least attempt to tackle the essential tragedy of the horror icon.
There are action films with more gripping bloodbaths and fantasy films with more evocative settings, but all together, Dracula Untold succeeds in portraying a father’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for his family.
Dracula Untold is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.