Like Shark Sandwich/Shit Sandwich before it, Dracula Untold invites a painfully obvious review headline, because it’s also the most succinct and true headline. Why fight it? Dracula Untold Should’ve Stayed That Way. It’s glib, dismissive, shitty, and also correct.
A less hacky headline would require more creativity than the marketing algorithms that generated the screenplay were programmed for, certainly. As for the human element, watching Dracula Untold, you’re struck by how much effort can go into creating something so terrible. And by how little effort directed in the right direction could’ve kept it from being so terrible. It didn’t have to be this way! What it comes down to is the difference between effort and investment. A lot of people seem to have put a lot of effort into making Dracula Untold, but no one seems to have been invested in it. Oh, the crew put in the work, alright, but only in the sense that prisoners folding sheets in the laundry room put in work.
You know how when you eat breakfast at a greasy spoon, sometimes they give you nice, crispy hashbrowns or homefries with your eggs, and other times they give you pathetic, flabby cubes of half-cooked potatoes that manage to be simultaneously mealy and starchy? I call those “f*ck you potatoes,” more evidence that someone has performed a general imitation of a short-order cook than food. Dracula Untold is the movie equivalent of f*ck you potatoes. Here, I made a you a dracula movie like you said, now leave me alone.
Like anyone else, I went into Dracula Untold wondering just what Dracula story had been kept from me all these years. Turns out, Vlad Dracula (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Dracula Esq) was just a war-weary Carpathian ruler, trying to forget about his past as a Turkish child slave soldier and later impaler of thousands while trying to keep his tiny kingdom safe from those same Turks, who are now led by Dracula’s adopted brother, played by an eyeliner’d, Macklemore-haired Dom Cooper, who has become the B-movie’s go-to Arab bad guy. ONCE BROTHERS. NOW ENEMIES. ALSO VAMPIRES OR SOMETHING. Phew, that’s already waaaay too much convoluted backstory for a movie about bats and beard guys punching each other. Basically, they wanted to make a superhero-esque origin story about this good king of Transylvania who turns evil. But in order to use that sweet, sweet royalty-free Dracula brand, this “goodness” had to be hastily sutured, human centipede-style, to that whole “once impaled thousands” thing. It doesn’t make that much sense, but they do get it out of the way quickly, and it would’ve made a middling excuse for a movie about medieval vampire sword fights, if those sword fights had actually been visible between blurs and quick cuts.
My question: if you’re going to make a movie that’s an excuse for sword fights, don’t you think you’d hire a director who had some idea how to actually shoot sword fights? Because director Gary Shore, if indeed that is a real person and not another algorithm (TAKE OFF THAT HAT AND TRENCH COAT, ALGORITHM! YOU AREN’T FOOLING ANYONE!) is terrible at it. The fight choreography in Dracula Untold looks about as coherent as if you’d driven by the set at 40 mph and chucked the camera out the window. You gloss over so much to get to the action, and then the action is collection of shaky blurs? What is the f*cking point?
This Luke Evans Dracula is basically Ned Stark on a heroin detox. He feels duty-bound to lead and protect his people, loves his kid, and has a wife so perfect and beautiful and loving that you know she’s going to die the second you see her onscreen. She’s part of that grand tradition of movie wives who exist only as plot points, more concept than human, there solely to represent the idea of love and the man’s reason to kill. So anyway, Luke Evans’ supremely un-chill ex-bro suddenly wants to bogart the Carpaths. Next thing you know, the Turks are attacking, and Ned Dracula meets a Dracula inside a scary mountain. The old Dracula, played by Tywin Lannister, offers Vlad Dracula the devil’s bargain: he can drink some blood and have Dracula powers that will help him kill those Turkish dickweeds. And if he can resist the intense urge to drink more blood for three days, he’ll go back to normal. But if he doesn’t, he’ll become a dracula forever and have to help Tywin Dracula fight some thousand-year feud with another dracula or some sh*t. “Let the games begin!” says Tywin Dracula. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” says the audience.
So then Vlad has to fend off an army of blindfolded Turks (ugh, don’t ask), which he does by, uh… commanding giant flocks of bats or something? Detox Dracula waves his arms around, conducting a symphony of bats, and some stuff happens, and none of it makes much sense, but at least it’s shaky and blurry. Then there’s the false ending and lead-in for future sequels you knew was coming, and you’re like, “Come on, guys, really?” It’s hard not to laugh at the chutzpah of a movie that sullenly tells you to go f*ck yourself for 90 minutes and then begs you to care about a sequel. No dessert for me, thanks, Mr. F*ck You Potatoes Guy. My only hope for Dracula Untold‘s next chapter is that it’s 11.