They say a film can be measured by how often you check your watch, with the modern equivalent being a smartphone slipping out of your pocket. When watching Dracula Untold, the first feature film by Gary Shore, the audience lit up like starry night with iPhones and androids shining beams of light into the theater: boredom. The audience was bored, really bored, and I was too. Dracula Untold is bad, the worst sort of junk food, purchased, consumed, and quickly regretted. At some point during the viewing, you will ruminate on the greater loss: the money spent on your ticket or the time wasted watching. I have yet to personally decide. It’s not fun, certainly not funny, and least of all not amusing. Dracula is as if a montage of monster movie tropes was stretched and stretched, leaving awkward gaps in the narrative that need to occupied. Stupidity was used like spackle, and the result is incompressible. In the same way Batman Begins was a revisionist take (at least cinematically) on the caped crusader, Dracula reimagines the title character as a romantic hero, a William Wallace with fangs. The irony is that there’s nothing wrong with a flamboyant fantasy premise: such is the essence of the B movie. But Dracula Untold fails to satisfy on even the basest of levels.
Like the other fantasy film (based on a graphic novel of the same name) 300, the story catalyst is the threat of Turkish invasion. To sustain the Turkish Empire, couriers travel between ruled cities demanding a massive crop of children—including royalty—to be trained as combatants in the Turkish army. Vlad (Luke Evans), a prince of Transylvania, was offered as part of this system and, against all predictable odds, became a warrior famous for his ferocity. Covered literally and figuratively with scars, he returns home as the prized lord, but when it comes time to give his own son, he refuses. It’s an obvious convenience that in a nearby cave is a skulking vampire lord (a wonderful Charles Dance), with whom Vlad receives vampire powers as part of a deathly pact.
Dracula gives its exposition like it’s talking with its mouth full: you really only get the general idea of what the film is trying to say. The film, more sleepwalker than nightwalker, lumbers through its fairytale story points like a someone giving a powerpoint presentation by reading off the slides. The mere inclusion of classic story tropes, like the supernatural pact that ends in X amount of time, visa vi Cinderella, doesn’t get credit just for showing up, and mostly comes off as insipid and lazy. Of the fantasy reimaginings that have become such a cash prize of movie studios—like the terrible Alice in Wonderland and this year’s flat Malevelent—the only film that has the decency to have an imagination was Snow White and the Huntsman. Little did I know that the modestly enjoyable Kristen Stewart/Chris Hemsworth vehicle would be the epitome of this strange genre. It did so much more than just show up, and even had the courtesy to film select scenes in 65mm film. The filmmakers clearly had a passion for the product, and it showed.
The ingredients are all there—dark greyscale skies, a lead actor with a Batman jawline and a genuine feeling of torment, intermittently ‘cool’ effect scenes—but they couldn’t be more undercooked. A classic trope is the wandering disciple, a character who worships and loves the power of a supernatural figure and becomes a submissive servant. Since that’s a staple of some horror, naturally it’s in Dracula Untold, but it’s given so little screen time that it’s obvious it was included for the pure sake of stuffing as much shit from other, better, movies in as possible. So much of Dracula feels like an afterthought one hopes there’s a substantially longer director’s cut, that the studio sucked the talent from the final film in an effort to “streamline”, but there’s no evidence beyond the absence of both content and quality to suggest this If it weren’t for the cast—who, it must be said, do appear to try—there would be little to enjoy. Even with an asinine script without an ounce of depth, Luke Evans is a charismatic lead, and his performance is a promise of better future roles. The closest point of comparison for Dracula aren’t other grim fantasy adventures, but Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Like that film, the meaning behind scenes, characters, and even lines of dialogue, are uncertain, obtuse, and, at best, merely esoteric. The result is an inadvertently head-spinning 90 minute movie watching experience, and one of the year’s more unpleasant.
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