Dracula Untold
Director: Gary Shaw
Starring: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon
92 mins; Class 15;
KRS Releasing Ltd

Since the publication of Bram Stoker’s literary masterpiece Dracula, the character whose legendary status endures 117 years later has been immortalised in popular culture.

Based on a real, historical figure, the character’s origins – or purported ones – have never been explored and this latest showcase attempts to do just that.

Luke Evans is suitably broody and moody as Prince Vlad III of Wallachia who, after years of brutal conflict with the Ottoman Empire, has brought years of peace and prosperity to his people. This is threatened when Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands that 1,000 Wallachian young boys, including the prince’s son, are taken from their homes to become child soldiers in the Ottoman army.

Faced with sending off these children to a horrible fate or another Ottoman invasion if he refuses, Vlad makes a pact with a mysterious and monstrous figure (Charles Dance) in order to defeat the Turks… but loses his soul in the bargain.

In making the protagonist merely a misunderstood, conflicted hero with special powers, writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless have removed much of the bite from the story.

There are few of the traits we normally associate with Dracula (mean­ing ‘son of the devil’), or, as he was also known, Vlad the Impaler, in their portrayal of the character.

It could well be the origin story of any run-of-the-mill vampire, with characters that are completely one-dimensional; a plot that is rather mundane and a flat script full of dialogue that runs the gamut from the pompous to the completely risible.

Even more unforgiveable is the lack of any horror

Even more unforgivable is the complete lack of any horror element, suspense or tension; despite some effective brutal battle scenes, the bloodletting is minimal, and the drama, when it appears, overwrought.

From a production values point of view, Dracula Untold has plenty going for it. There are lavish costumes and noteworthy set design boasting some truly remarkable sets from the prince’s castle to the imposing Broken Tooth mountain.

It is here that the prince makes his impossible decision and we are treated to some visually imposing special effects.

The opening narration features some stunning shots as the camera looms in on a series of stills depicting the Ottoman years.

As the story unfolds, the prince’s favourite form of attack, which involves him transforming into a black swathe of swarming bats, is awe-inspiringly rendered.

Yet, like many films before it, beautiful visuals do not a good film make.

Evans cuts an imposing figure, his blood-red cape swirling about him as though it has a life of its own.

Although he injects some life into the character and depicts the tender moments and the more menacing ones equally effectively, he can do little to overcome the tepid script.

Cooper hams it up somewhat as the Ottoman sultan, leader of the Turks, portrayed a tad offensively as uniformly evil. He sports some very bad make up and a rather dodgy accent, which is unnecessary given his emissary (Ferdinand Kingsley), speaks perfect, unaccented English.

Dracula Untold’s premise is based on the line we are fed during the opening narration: “Sometimes the world no longer needs a hero, sometimes what it needs… is a monster.” But fails to get in deeper than this portentous proclamation.

Sometimes, what a film needs is a good script, and this proves that some stories are probably best left untold.

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