DIR: Gary Shore • WRI: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless • PRO: Michael De Luca • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Richard Pearson • DES: François Audouy • MUS: Ramin Djawadi • CAST: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Samantha Barks
Pop culture is currently undergoing something of a revisionist renaissance; no longer content with rebooting franchises before the old dead horse is cold in the ground, Hollywood has laid the evil eye upon some of cinema’s most memorable villains. With Frankenstein, the Mummy and presumably the Hamburglar all set to receive shared-universe retellings, heading up the impending monster mash is Gary Shore’s Dracula: Untold.
Having cut a bloody swathe through 15th-century Europe as a conscripted child soldier for the Ottoman Empire, Vlad Dracul (Luke Evans) returns to his homeland and sets aside the less-than-heroic moniker of “Impaler” in the hopes of a peaceful life.
However, his stint as idyllic family man to wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingelas (Art Parkinson) is cut short when Ottoman Emperor Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), once a childhood friend, demands a tribute of 1,000 Transylvanian boys to swell the ranks of his army. Facing annihilation, Vlad forges a pact with an unnamed evil in the Transylvanian mountains to find the power to save his homeland – at some cost.
Intensely aware of its own inherent tragedy from the off, it’s a premise that misses no opportunity to reiterate the stakes time and again – Vlad, a man dragged back into a bloody past he’d thought buried, doing what he must for his family.
It’s a tired archetype that an exceptional cast do their utmost to shrug free of, but turgid dialogue and recycled tropes conspire to drag the whole thing back into mediocrity. Superhuman before he ever sells his soul, Vlad is slaughtering an entire Ottoman troop one moment and professing undying love to his wife the next, to the point that one can practically hear the drums of impending doom with each flutter of her eyelashes.
The cinematography manages to deliver its share of visual thrills, walking the line between grittier fare and the 300-style digital effects that are the extravagant extreme of an art-form perhaps too quickly maligned, plus the production design serves well enough that even the film’s latter set-pieces never feel entirely unorganic.
In summary, it is perhaps too self-satisfied to suggest that audiences would have been better off had Dracula: Untold stayed that way. Though rather detached in plot and featuring an anonymous supporting cast that IMDB will likely credit by beard-thickness, Shore’s feature debut is visually-arresting and action-packed enough that, given the right material, the cast might manage to kindle something from a sequel – an affront to all that is holy though that might be.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Dracula: Untold is released 3rd October 2014