It is becoming increasingly popular to take brutal warlords in history and paint them in a redeemable light. This fictional magnificence attempts to portray a misunderstood anti-hero. In rare cases the director finds a way to instill empathy with the audience, but most of the time it is laughable. In Dracula Untold, we get Vlad the Impaler. This sadistic prince was the basis for the infamous vampire Dracula. In reality, Vlad had few redeeming qualities and is considered by many to be a gleeful butcher and mutilator of his foes and their families. But, put that aside for this film of myth, as Vlad was in fact a family man that gruesomely impaled his enemies for the safety of his people. Fair enough.
Pacing can be an asset or a hindrance to the delivery of a story. In horror, the pace, both quick and slow, can often be used to build and maintain tension. In this film, the pacing was so lightning-fast that it was a detriment to the character development. The characters felt like they were following their scripted destiny all the way through the film, ignoring logic, reason, and sensibility to carry out orders from the unseen writers. Perhaps I have been watching too much of the calculating and ruthless diplomacy of Game of Thrones, but the Sultan's complete disregard for sensible tactics was disturbingly detracting from the motif.
Perhaps the most irritating part of the film was the constant babbling of how mythological and historical events took place in this concept of reality. While I think there are some films to the contrary, for the most part I find the use of pre-cinema summaries to be cheap and an example of ill-conceived writing. In all honesty, many movies that do this I still enjoy despite this fact. But I always appreciate deeply the films that let the intellect of the audience, effective visual cues, and naturally-developing dialogue explain the history of events and the current situation. When done correctly, it leaves mystery and retains an intrigue for the audience to latch onto. Throwing the pie of information in the audience's face in the first 15 minutes via onscreen essays and the verbal readings of historical scripts just leaves the audience offended disconnected rather than engaged.
The horror in this film was obviously not its strong suit. An action horror film about Vlad the Impaler becoming the real vampire Dracula and it's PG-13? It's a contradiction. Just a film of historical relevance on Vlad would garner an R-rating, or even an Oliver Stone NC-17 director's cut. The tame approach wasn't particularly distracting, but it left the brutal reality of the concept on the cutting room floor.
The action sequences for the most part were rather enjoyable. Some of the visuals reminded one of Timur Bekmambetov at his finest, with a rather impressive seamless action shot from the first-person perspective of a dying soldier through the reflection of his sword. I enjoyed the bat-teleporting sequences more than I expected, but the swarming bat army was a bit much.
Dracula Untold reminded me of Underworld as far as its balance of horror to action, siding more with the action side at the end of the day, but in a tamer format. Luke Evans has continued down his path of mediocre acting in fantasy/scifi action-oriented roles. His performance was neither exemplary nor deplorable. I have been a fan of Dominic Cooper ever since his turn(s) in The Devil's Double, but here he seemed checked out of his role that was rather absent despite its prominence to the story.
The film seemed rushed to completion, and if it were I'd consider it a success for not being a debacle of filmmaking. The blatant attempt at spawning a sequel just before the credits rolled made me cringe, like DC's attempt to keep pace with Marvel's success.
Horror Qualifier: 6/10
Horror Quality: 3/10
Film Quality: 3/10