It is a bad sign that only about 10 minutes of “Dracula Untold” are actually entertaining. For a movie that promises a gritty remake of a landmark horror film, “Dracula Untold” is disheartening — it becomes a cynical ploy to market off of the original’s name rather than a meaningful reimagining. The film tries desperately to pass itself off as the reincarnation of one of the most iconic monster movies in film history, but it is nothing but a tedious backdrop of set pieces and bland acting.
Instead of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, the audience is introduced to Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), the historical inspiration for Stoker’s creature, who tries to rule his kingdom in peace with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) after living an atrocious life as a brutal killer for the Turkish army. The Turks, led by Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), suddenly demand that Vlad relinquish 1,000 boys from his kingdom to serve in the Turk’s army, including Vlad’s son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson).
Determined to defeat Mehmed and his vast army, Vlad encounters an ancient vampire (Charles Dance), who gives him incredible powers at the cost of an insatiable thirst for human blood. With his new abilities, Vlad seeks to decimate the impeding forces while trying to control his urge to slaughter everyone he holds dear.
It’s a wonder why director Gary Shore decided to replace the original tale of Dracula with a mixture of history and fantasy. The result sounds intriguing on paper, but Shore fails to properly translate the concept to the screen. A tedious, clichéd screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless serves as the final deathblow to the film. The writing attempts to find a balance between serious and campy but fails due horrid pacing.
The acting remains completely uninspired. Only Evans, as the grim and serious Vlad, offers any kind of presence. He at least tries to make the new interpretation work, but is limited to either frowning, growling or giving the occasional smile in a half-baked attempt at comic relief. The main issue with his performance, and a problem with the majority of the acting, is a lack of passion.
The rest of the supporting cast is wooden and entirely forgettable. The only exception is Dance as the ancient vampire. He is humorously over-the-top in his role as a creepy, man-eating fiend.
Special effects and the action itself are the only positive aspects in the film. While shot haphazardly and frantically, the incredible speed and intensity of Dracula decimating scores of soldiers is enjoyable. The films’ only crescendo shows Dracula using his powers to the best of his abilities.
This is a welcome change, as the audience is treated to only subdued, selective instances where Dracula acts like a vampire instead of just a super-soldier. Watching him finally summon millions of swarming bats to crush the advancing army almost makes the film worth sitting through.
One concern about the action, however, is how tame the violence appears on the screen. Even though “Dracula Untold” is a PG-13 movie, it’s quite disconcerting that a film about vampires sucking blood directly from people’s necks has no realistic wounds. If the filmmakers had broached the possibility of going all out with the bloodiness people expect from vampire movies, the gritty return of Dracula would have been more justified.
There’s no doubt that this film is a mess. Action sequences that are somewhat daring and special effects that make the creatures under Dracula’s command pop out can’t save “Dracula Untold”’s lack of charisma. An uninspired screenplay supported by hollow acting disrupts any possible charm that could have enamored audiences with the idea that Dracula has made a triumphant return to cinema.