Dracula-Untold-Gallery-08Directed by Gary Shore

Starring Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Charles Dance, Paul Kay

Bombastic, charmless and largely unnecessary, Dracula Untold attempts to put a human face on the old bloodsucker, telling the story of how the historical(ish) Vlad Tepes became the literary, legendary Count Dracula. Better filmmakers have attempted this in the past and come up short – Francis Ford Coppola being the most notable example – so first time feature wrangler Gary Shore has no chance.

That nod to 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an appropriate one, as Dracula Untold essentially stretches out the earlier films opening prelude to around 90 minutes, losing all sense of style, coherency and thematic weight in the process. When good Prince Vlad (Luke Evans), his impaling days behind him, is tasked by the evil Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper, racelifted) with giving Turkey 1000 children to be trained as military levies, he baulks – mainly because the conscripts will include his own young son. Realising that tiny Transylvania will pretty much get wiped off the map by the Turkish army, he enlists the aid of a cave-bound elder vampire (Charles Dance), gaining all the powers of the undead for three days, which should be enough time to see off the marauding Muslims. However, if he should taste human blood in that period, Vlad will be a vampire forever. Fans of the source novel, any of its film adaptations, or any horror media of the last century should have an idea how well that goes.

That predetermined end isn’t actually a hindrance – or at least it isn’t necessarily one. The notion of Dracula’s origin being framed as a kind of Greek tragedy has some merit, but unfortunately this Dracula, as portrayed by the stern, determined Evans, is almost flawless – if anything, his downfall is that he just loves his country and his family too much. His vampiric powers essentially make him a dark superhero, smashing his way through serried ranks of villains in the form of a vast cloud of bats and using his supernal strength to toss foes about like twigs. Though the script plays lip service to notions of damnation, we never see him succumb to the lure of the red stuff; all his victims have it coming.

The film doesn’t even work as a dark fantasy action flick. The story takes the most obvious and turgid route to its forgone conclusion and, even if you’re predisposed to enjoying watching guys in armour batter each other senseless, Shore’s generic, video game-influenced visual and directing style will more than likely leave you cold. Shore is so busy filling his frame with “cool” imagery that he never bothers to ground any of his stylistic choices, making this film about a man who chooses to doom himself to save his dependents strangely bereft of weight.

A modern day coda sets the scene for a sequel, but we can only hope that never eventuates. Underworld fans might find something enjoyable here, but that in itself is faint praise. Avoid this one like the plague.