“My father was a great man. A hero, so they say. Sometimes the world does not need another hero. Sometimes, what it needs… is a monster“. After months of waiting, I finally got to see Dracula Untold. I’m sure that everybody knows who Dracula is and that most of you have most probably already watched at least one film where he is the protagonist. So why see another one? Because you can, because it’s not just about the vampire… because it’s not perfect, but it still has more than enough to offer.
The moment I took my seat and the film began, I already knew what I wanted to see. I had months to watch the trailer countless times, to read comments, to come up with all kinds of scenarios in my mind and to be certain that I would enjoy watching the film. And I did. I knew what to expect – to be honest, the trailer could have given away less details – and what I wanted to see. I was not there for a history class, but for a story, something which can be easily seen as a prequel to Bram Stoker’s novel. Or at least to Coppola’s 1992 film, with Gary Oldman.
“Every bloodline has a beginning“, they say. We are invited to discover that beginning, back in 1462. We are shown how Vlad the Impaler, presented as the prince of Transylvania, steps from history into legend, becoming a creature of darkness. Peace never lasts for too long. After ten years of prosperity and calm, Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands 1000 boys as tribute; among them, Vlad’s son, Îngeraș. Instead of following his father’s example, Țepeș is willing to become a monster if that means saving his family and people. After all, “men do not fear swords, they fear monsters“.
Whether we speak of history or of fiction, we can never know the entire story. We read about the Wallachian prince or we read Stoker’s novel and the ones which followed. But there’s always something missing. The first character we hear is Îngeraș (Little Angel… honestly, who came up with this name?), Vlad’s legacy. He is the narrator who welcomes us and then bids us farewell. He gives us access to this story. And it is untold, true, but it is seen. We join those who knew and fought with or against Dracula; silent witnesses, if you will.
Luke Evans makes a brilliant vampire. His portrayal of Vlad is interesting, especially because of the way he moves with ease between tenderness and rage, between the image of a loving father and husband and that of a being craving for blood. I wanted to see this, I wanted to see how this particular actor plays the part and I am impressed. The distinction between man and monster isn’t always clear. The voivode is presented early on as strong and unafraid to use any means possible to protect his people. Even more, it should come as no surprise for us that he does what everyone else was afraid to do (seek help from the vampire of Broken Tooth Mountain): he already holds darkness in his soul. And, once unleashed, that darkness and the power it brings seem to be the only ones who can both protect and destroy everyone around him.
If the son of the dragon is shown as guided by love and a sense of honour, the son of the devil is driven by a burning desire for revenge. And yet we get the feeling that the human side has never completely abandoned Vlad. He becomes a monster, yes, but he is not the greatest threat here. The man dies in a desperate attempt to protect the ones he loves, with the hope that everything will be fine in the end. And he is offered the power he seeks: his old scars are healed and no new wounds remain on his body; shape-shifting and control over the creatures which roam the night are beautifully presented; he is given the strength of a hundred men and the speed of a falling star… and the power to destroy his enemies. All with a price, of course: he will never escape his need to drink human blood, making it impossible to regain his humanity. I appreciate the fact that Dracula’s weaknesses are also shown (like the pain felt when he comes in contact with silver and the aversion to holy objects). Also, there are a few scenes where we see what happens when a vampire is exposed to sunlight for a certain period of time. I love them! They show that vampires do not belong among the living and that there is something else, something frightening hiding behind a human-like appearance.
It seems that everything Vlad does is out of love, as if we are always nudged to pay attention to the heaven/hell dichotomy; or to see how sin and innocence are trying to subdue one another. Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t have enough depth and it is often lost in the background. We have Dracula and the Master Vampire (Charles Dance) representing the dark side. Îngeraș and Mirena (Vlad’s wife, played by Sarah Gadon) are supposed to stand for morality and what is good in human nature. But it’s not enough. Luke Evans and Charles Dance are wonderful and they make you want to learn more of their characters and see what they have to offer. The others are just there. I would have loved to see more of Mirena and of the Sultan. We are told that Mehmed II and Vlad the Impaler had a close relationship at one point, but that idea is not explored further. As for the love story, what grabbed my attention was a fragment from Rumi’s Life and Death: “why think separately/ of this life and the next/ when one is born from the last?“. Again, it made me think of Coppola’s film and the way love and death go hand in hand.
What else? I loved the soundtrack. At times it felt like it wasn’t even there. Not in a bad way; it set the atmosphere and the pace and became part of the story. I’m happy whenever I see that happening in a film. I also loved the costumes and the special effects, especially when it came to the battle scenes… and the bats. And I absolutely loved the Master Vampire, with the way he speaks, moves and simply IS right there even if you don’t see him all the time. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the ending, but it could have been worse. “Let the games begin“, utters Charles Dance. Why haven’t they begun in six hundred years? The film was too short and I hope that there will be a sequel, there is still much I want to know about our vampires and the roles they are to play. In conclusion: did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. Will you like it? Well, how should I know? You tell me. Enjoy!
by Elena Atudosiei