Dracula Untold (2014)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

I'm not sure when I first got into vampires, but my mother wishes it had been never. I liked being one of the few believers who occasionally indulged in vampire stories back before a teen novel made them popular, but having Hollywood take a renewed interest in creatures of the undead due to a resurgence in their overall popularity means more of the stories I like, so it's not all bad. Dracula Untold is what happens when a mythological creature of darkness is re-imagined into a modern hero.

 

When the Turks invaded Transylvania, they abducted and forced many children to undergo training to become ruthless soldiers in their armies. One of them became notorious for his brutal tactics, earning himself the nickname of "Vlad the Impaler." Now an adult and free of their enslavement, Vlad (Luke Evans) has returned to his ancestral lands with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son (Art Parkenson). Turks still roam his lands and out of concern for another invasion, he takes a hunting party to go in search of whatever killed a battalion of men. It lurks in darkness and kills his companions. Vlad barely escapes with his life, fascinated and frightened of the darkness dwelling within the mountains.

 

The local prior believes it to be a vampire, a soulless demon with supernatural abilities, who is forever separated from the Church. Vlad gives it little thought until an emissary from a Turkish Lord (Dominic Cooper) demands children to train to flesh out their armies... including his beloved son. Desperate to protect his family and entire nation from their enemies, Vlad makes the choice to return to the mountain, discover the truth about the monster therein, and bargain his soul for temporary powers to liberate them all from their enemies.

 

It is an unusual twist on the legend of Dracula, which draws its inspiration more from vampire lore itself and the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler, than the Bram Stoker novel that made the name of "Dracula" infamous. Historically, it's more myth and fiction than fact, and goes a long way toward "cleaning up" the reputation of Vlad the Impaler, a ruthless tyrant known for impaling his enemies and leaving their bodies out to rot in the sun. It returns to some of the original vampire stories in the sense that its dominant vampire is neither attractive nor desirable, but instead a hideous, deformed and vindictive soul (a wonderfully creepy Charles Dance) awaiting others to share in his curse. It is a relatively unknown cast, with a gorgeous backdrop, beautiful costuming and a core of familial relationships at the heart of it. Once again the monster is transformed into a noble creature, whose own mortality and soul is sacrificed to save those he loves. And here, it works and is reasonable within the context of the plot.

 

The writing is at times inconsistent and lacks cohesive logic (if Vlad can transform into a cloud of bats that can decimate entire armies on the battlefield by hurling them thousands of feet into the air, why would he need to walk out onto a silver floor to duel his adversary?), and it could have used greater character development. But one thing it does... and does extremely well... is use the elements of Dracula that are absent from most films. Here, he can control the atmosphere (storm clouds) and transform into bats; this is something rarely seen that is downright fun to watch. The usual clichés are notably absent but he is vulnerable to silver, crosses, and sunlight. The religious aspects of the lore are underplayed (although the priest is the only survivor when vampires are afoot), leaving us instead with a story of self-sacrifice and honor. It's not the first time a film has starred a loving husband and father in the leading role, nor will it be the last, but although my initial reaction to it was somewhat lukewarm, the more I think about it, the more I like its understated approach.

 
Sexual Content:
A married couple starts to undress, passionately kissing, embracing, and lying down together; they are interrupted.
 
Language:
None.
 
Violence:
Entire armies are wiped out. Gruesome imagery includes depictions of men impaled and left hanging on the battlefield. Vampires attack and bite people. Some blood, exchange of blood, etc.

Other:
None worth noting, other than vampires possessing supernatural powers (such as the ability to turn into a flock of bats). There is a hint at reincarnation.

   


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