Friday, October 10, 2014

Dracula Untold

What would you sacrifice to save the loves of the ones you love? That's conundrum is central to the events of Dracula Untold which recasts Vlad the Impaler as a former child soldier drafted into the service of the Turkish Army. After making a name for himself for the brutal ways in which he left enemy soldiers on the battlefield, Vlad eventually returned home to Transylvania to resume his role as prince. After a decade of peace Vlad's peaceful tranquility is shattered by the return of the Turks who demand 1,000 children including Vlad's son to grow the ranks of their upcoming campaigns.

Casting Vlad as a tragic figure long before his transformation into the world's most famous vampire, the film lucks out on the casting of Luke Evans who is better than the source material and somehow keeps the story together through its rougher patches. The other casting of interest is Charles Dance as the vampire who agrees to sire Vlad in exchange for being granted his own freedom from a curse that has kept him hidden the mountains of Transylvania for centuries. Dance's villain is by far the creepiest part of film and the closest it ever reaches to being a real horror movie.

The powers, and limitations, of the vampire will be granted to Vlad for a period of three days. As long as he refuses the growing urge to drink human blood he will be restored to his normal human state. However, should he drink Vlad will permanently become a vampire. Knowing the well-told legacy of Dracula I don't really need to tell you what happens, do I?

Although far from scary, Dracula Untold works more as a B-movie action flick than horror film. To go with the performances of Evans and Dance, the film boasts some impressive special effects and may even be worth an extra couple of bucks to see it in IMAX where available. When the movie plays to these strengths it works better than expected, however when it tries to rely on its shakier supporting cast (such as Sarah Gadon as Vlad's lovely wife or Dominic Cooper as the over-the-top Turkish villain) or romantic subplots (meant to feel poetic or poignant but coming off like bad melodrama) the movie becomes truly groan worthy. Thankfully director Gary Shore and writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless know where their bread is buttered in a movie like this and don't allow such scenes to derail the film.

Dracula Untold is neither good nor bad enough to stand-out among the glut of vampire movies over the years. (Hey, not every movie can be Love at First Bite.) It's far better than Underworld movies or Van Helsing and at least as good as two of the three Blade movies, but then again that's a pretty low bar to clear. Fans expecting blood, action, and some cool effects involving the creatures most commonly associated with the character are likely to get their money's worth. However, those hoping for a more classical interpretation the character or wishing for old-school suspense and heightened sexual themes found in the best of the genre may leave disappointed.

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