Dracula: Untold Review
By: Anthony Zangrillo
Sporting one of modern fiction’s most beloved and feared monsters in a setting as inherently gripping as Transylvania, Gary Shore’s “Dracula: Untold” invokes a feeling of childish excitement, far before you enter the theater. In his directorial debut, Shore boldly claims his place in the anthology of vampire legend. He does so with surprisingly successful results, albeit leaving me wanting just a little bit more substance. A blend of exciting action sequences, stunning visuals, and powerful sound mixing all combine to make this fantasy horror film a treat to watch. However, the lack of a gripping plot makes this film forgettable.
Set in mid-15th century Transylvania, the origin story of Count Dracula is coupled with the true account of Vlad the Impaler’s war with Sultan Mehmed II of Turkey. The young Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) is ordered by Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) to offer 1,000 of his kingdom’s young boys, including his own son, to the war effort of the Turkish Empire. Realizing that refusal would mean certain death for himself and his subjects, Vlad seeks out the mysterious evil power that has been lurking in Transylvania’s mountaintops. In a desperate effort to gain the strength needed to defend his country, Vlad engages in a Faustian agreement with the ancient vampire (Charles Dance). Vlad will be granted inhuman speed and power for three days, but, should he succumb to his newfound thirst for human blood, he will be forced to embrace eternity as the terror Dracula, forever isolated in the shadows and a slave to his bloodlust.
Dracula: Untold does not fail to deliver on the promise of a thrilling hour and a half that it teases in the trailers. The expertly crafted CGI makes every swarm of bats feel real and thunderous. The clash of swords and rumble of every vampire cry resounds throughout the theater. Also, the cinematography, in all its high contrast glory, is pretty stunning. These elements, alone, are enough of a reason to stop by the theater on a night with nothing else to do. What the film lacks, unfortunately, is anything more to distinguish itself as a work of art, rather than just what seems to be a misplaced summer blockbuster. Universal Picture’s decision to release this film so close to Halloween is an indication that they were hoping this Dracula installment would position itself as a true late-night spook fest, but the lack of any coherent creepy mood fails to make this possible.
The few times that I got shivers down my spine watching this were the most memorable, but these moments were few and far between. Charles Dance, in his expectedly brilliant acting, does the best he can with what he is given. I got the sense that someone high up in Universal wanted to play it safe with a more easily approachable film for all audiences. Nowhere is this more evident than the film’s ending, which, without giving away any spoilers, took what could have been a great and somber ending and ruined it with a cheap, happy ending. Sure, that’s great in a romantic comedy, but in a Dracula film, I want to walk out and feel just a little afraid of the dark.
When all is said and done, Dracula: Untold is worth the ever-appreciating movie ticket price. I recommend this film to anyone who wants to spend a night this Halloween season seeing a solid example of what a modern vampire film can be in the 21st century (not bogged down by teenage love triangles). It delivers on its promises, and shows moments of brilliance along the way. If this is an indication of the reboot of the Universal Monsters franchise, I, for one, am incredibly excited to see where this train will go. The Motion Picture Club at NYU gives Dracula: Untold a 6.5/10.