Ellements of Film: Dracula Untold

Because sometimes you see a movie in the $7-or-less bin and ask: why?


As you may have noticed, there haven’t been posts for a couple of weeks. That’s partly because I’ve been very busy with Life Stuff, but it is also because I’ve recently hit one of my (thankfully infrequent) periods of serious writer burnout. I have half a dozen half-finished articles on everything from JK Rowling trying to bring Orientalist tropes back into style to the absolute pearl clutching that happened when DC attempted to show some thematically-appropriate Batman penis. (I’m not linking you to either of those things, y’all can Google that your own selves.) But I’ve been unable to finish what I’ve started. I’ve been listlessly trawling through feminist news sites, trying to find something that fits the right balance of “makes me angry enough to write” and “doesn’t make me so depressed I can’t stand it,” or the even rarer beast, “thing that makes me happy.” And no dice. (Believe me, I was really tempted to write posts this week about the trashfires that are Tumblr and Lena Dunham, and I couldn’t even manage that.)

So I’m hoping to cure some of my writing fatigue with a new side project of my Ellements of Film Series. Welcome to “Ellements of Film: What Are You Doing in This Bin/Movie?!”

I should explain.

I’m an absolute sucker for the cheap movie bins at places like Wal-Mart, Target, TJ Maxx, etc. If there is a giant tub of $7-or-less movies, you can bet your ass that I’m diving into that tub. It’s like a much spottier, slightly more expensive Redbox. (Or slightly less expensive, given how much trouble I have remembering to return Redbox movies.) One of my best friends is constantly aghast at my DVD collection, because these $5 treasures will pile up, still wrapped in plastic, as I wait for the right time to translate the initial rush of “got something I kind of wanted for really cheap” into the ennui that leads to me actually, you know… watching the movies. (She periodically unwraps all of them so that she doesn’t have to be ashamed of me anymore.) Sometimes the things I scoop up are absolute treasures. Sometimes they are absolute duds. Sometimes I am aghast that such a lovely movie has been denigrated so as to be slumming it in the Bin of Shame. Sometimes they make me question the existence of a single, solitary braincell amongst the entire crew of a movie. Whatever the case, the movie is an Experience. And one that I would like to share with all of you!

So I came up with a formalized system to share my explorations, the aforementioned “Ellements of Film: What Are You Doing in This Bin/Movie?!”

There are a few rules:

  1. There must be at least one actor whose name I recognize, and whom I know to have been in at least one (1) movie that was either good, high-budget, or very popular. So no “this was my film school thesis project” atrocities.
  2. I must not have seen the movie before, or it must be at least three years since I’ve seen the film. If it’s been long enough that I’ve either willfully deleted the film from my memory banks or it has blended into half of the things I’ve seen on TNT, it’s pretty safe to think that the film will be a fairly new experience for me.
  3. I must have at least some genuine desire to see the film, and not just of the “watching a car crash” kind. In order to give each movie a fair shake, I need to have at least some buy-in with it, which means no cheating and going straight for things that will be obviously horrible. There has to be at least some redeeming factor about the film that makes me want to watch it.

The intention of this exercise is to harvest some of these discount movies and then separate the wheat from the chaff and deliver an ultimate opinion. Am I shocked and appalled that a fantastic movie has joined the gutter with all of the Finding Nemo rip-offs? Or am I wondering who owed massive enough gambling debts that they accepted money in exchange for having their name permanently associated with dreck?

And so we begin.

First up, Dracula Untold. It fits the rules in the following ways:

  1. It stars Luke Evans, who seems to have made something of a career out of starring in somewhat-despised versions of beloved intellectual properties. He’s Bard in The Hobbit movies, Gaston in the live-action Beauty and the Beast, and Aramis in the 2011 version of The Three Musketeers, a movie so bad that you all probably didn’t even remember that there was a 2011 version of The Three Musketeers. He’s also That Guy You Kind of Recognize along with That Other Guy You Kinda Recognize and That Girl You Kinda Recognize, Wasn’t She a Child Actress? on the show The Alienist. And while I would challenge most people who would ascribe the label of “good” to most of his film work, there is no doubt that he has snagged roles in multiple films that are high-budget and/or popular.
  2. I have never seen this movie before.
  3. I was actually kinda interested in this film when it came out. There was that whole weird period where everyone decided that telling the cool, mostly-medieval and grimdark!origin stories of monsters was in, and we’re still in the period where making villains somewhat-to-mostly heroic is in, and this film fit neatly into the Venn diagram space between those two things. I love monster movies and I’m intrigued to see what people do with public domain or very familiar stories. That being said, I could tell pretty much immediately that the film was going to be bad, so I was definitely not willing to spend money to actually leave my house, buy popcorn, and subject myself to it in public.

So, now our favorite things, Elle belatedly liveblogging and then summing up movies. (It’s probably not your favorite thing. It’s one of my favorite things.)

  • Okay so we’re starting with Turkish sultans enslaving and whipping Transylvanian child slaves. So that’s… a choice.
  • We’re also apparently in bullet time?
  • Or maybe we’re playing with toys?
  • Vlad the Impaler, Son of the Dragon, is apparently now a reformed former child soldier who was enslaved by the Turks and now is returning to Transylvania and praying very hard in front of all of the people he impaled. I am already so lost by the tone of this film.
  • Luke Evans is making no attempt to have a Transylvanian accent. This is also a choice.
  • And the bat jump scare is coming in 3…2.. oh look there it is
  • OH no! The CGI from Diablo 2 is going to get them!
  • That was a half-assed vampire, I swear to God.
  • Oh God now we have religious anatomy texts. And etymology. And churches? HOW IS THIS INFORMATION SO READILY AVAILABLE YET NO ONE KNOWS THIS SHIT?
  • Of course the monk is going to guard the secret, he fucking knows vampires exist and this is the first time you’re finding out about it.
  • Genuinely could not tell for about 30 seconds if the blonde girl was his wife, daughter, or hot nanny. Apparently, hot wife who looks young enough to be the hot nanny.
  • Making a Clothed Person Get In The Tub With You Because It Is So Silly! Trope.
  • Okay I kinda want their furry smoking jackets.
  • Does no one ever knock? How did these people get in? This is terrible security.
  • The maker of this movie has seen 300.
  • Did Vlad the Impaler give tribute to the Turks? I’m getting so confused about history.
  • Well isn’t this convenient reasoning to make a Noble Prince sell his soul to a demon.
  • Wait, they are not seriously making Howard Stark the Turkish Emperor, are they? You can’t be serious. It’s serious. Oh my God.
  • Okay, “What is one son? If you are virile, you’ll make plenty more.” Is a pretty good dictator burn.
  • “What kind of man crawls into his own grave looking for hope?” is one of those things that sounds really wise and actually doesn’t mean anything.
  • So he’s just like, this insane killing machine that is also remorseful.
  • This filmmaker has also seen Batman. And…. Maybe Alien.
  • Wait, now we’re Little Mermaid-ing it? If he can avoid drinking blood for three days he won’t turn evil. I feel like he’s going to lose that bet.
  • And now he has Daredevil senses. Or Sentinel senses? I’m not sure who he’s ripping off here.
  • Oooh and Predator eyes. That’s a good addition.
  • And he can see… through… clouds?
  • Also turn into bats. Multiple bats. So many bats.
  • Well that defense didn’t last too long. For being such a good warrior king, you did not teach your people so good, sir.
  • Get yourself a man that looks at you like Dracula’s second in command looks at Dracula.
  • Also get yourself Dracula’s pretty hair.
  • Okay so at this point, Dracula has seen one vampire kill like, two dudes. And he heard a spider be cool. And now he just automatically thinks he can take on a whole army? I don’t know why we’re watching all of this in a rearview mirror made out of a sword.
  • Dude this isn’t Fight Club, your people are gonna wonder what’s going on.
  • Yeah, go to that monastery where all the monks had a vision of the monastery being attacked. That’s a great idea.
  • Okay this movie is officially the CGI Beowulf, because it’s an unnecessary retelling of a classic tale and the only good part is the sidekick.
  • Oh no, my husband, what is wrong? Let me kiss you, with my dress hanging attractively off of one shoulder and just happening to expose my lovely, pale neck. It’s totally fine, because you are definitely not a vampire.
  • And this, children, is called Dracula getting his freak on.
  • Dracula has Performance Issues.
  • Is this dude supposed to be his Renfield? It’s the 1400s, why the hell would he have a Renfield?
  • Well that secret lasted a whole like, 16 hours.
  • Mirena is bad at lying. Good at birth control, bad at lying.
  • Did they decide to do a Dracula movie so that they could film all the fight scenes at night and not have to make them good?
  • Get you someone who looks at you like Dracula looks at Dimitru. And Dimitru’s blood.
  • Bad Guy You Thought Was Dead in Fall Was Not Actually Dead From Fall Trope.
  • ….is he blindfolding his army? Like for serious?
  • Everything about this is the stupidest thing. I miss Dimitru. Dimitru was the only good part of this.
  • Suspicious Dracula Acts Suspicious.
  • Okay, yeah, there’s a little bit of light coming from those windows but only like, a little. You purposely burned yourself on light just a little while ago.
  • I like how in most religions, “repenting” and “dying” are the same thing.
  • Yeah, kill the monster that just saved all of your lives.
  • Okay so we’re in Frankenstein now.
  • I don’t like knockoff Alan Rickman.
  • Okay not buying the “This is not who you are” speech. They keep talking about how he’s a barely repressed killing machine, even before the vampire thing. I feel like if you try to burn a barely repressed killing machine alive, he’s gonna be pretty pissed.
  • So much boredom. So many bats.
  • How do you LOSE a sultan?
  • Mirena is fridged.
  • But she is dying so gracefully, and with so little flailing. That’s good and artistic.
  • Oooh, and he’s wearing black and she’s wearing white, how symbolic.
  • Oh, she had one of those good falls from a 100 foot tower, where she’s definitely going to die but she’s not a total pancake so she can have a dramatic last discussion with her husband and sacrifice her life so he can become Dracula. That makes sense.
  • …okay if he makes a vampire army out of villagers, this story might suddenly become cool.
  • How does the sultan know about the silver weakness? Dracula has been Dracula for like three days, and he learned about vampires the day before that. Did the sultan just conveniently know about vampires?
  • Dude if Dracula gets taken out by coinage this is gonna be so goddamn lame.
  • Belatedly, if he’s turning dying people left and right to make his army, why didn’t he just turn Mirena?
  • Okay I know they wanted “My name is Dracula. Son of the Devil.” To come off cool, but it just really, really didn’t.
  • And of course Dracula is the only vampire who somehow didn’t turn totally evil by becoming a vampire.
  • Dracula’s son is gonna need so much goddamn therapy.
  • The creators of this movie have also seen 30 Days of Night.
  • Okay showing the son’s feet not touching the floor on the throne is actually a pretty good image.
  • Oh look, he lived through the modern day, the creator of this film has also seen… every film where this happened.
  • Don’t be creepy with random reincarnated ladies in the market, Vlad. It’s creepy.
  • And of course the master vampire is around. Wasn’t he supposed to already unleash a reign of terror? Did we miss the reign of terror? I think I would have preferred a movie about the reign of terror.

VERDICT: What are you doing in this movie?

Luke Evans isn’t my favorite actor in the world, but he’s just about got to be better than this. And Dominic Cooper is definitely better than this. It’s not even so much that it’s bad as that it’s just…. Not good. It’s boring. And movies about ancient warlords becoming demons should never be boring. This movie would have actually been better if they’d let Vlad the Impaler stay… Vlad the Impaler. They keep talking about this bloodlust and urge to fight that he has, but he basically never really shows any of that. This would have been a cooler movie if it was “already bad guy makes a deal with the devil to become even worse guy” instead of “martyred yet somehow dangerous bad guy makes a deal with the devil to save his family.” Like just don’t try to “redeem” Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola tried to do that, and we wound up with Keanu Reeves with a terrible British accent. Is that what you want, Keanu Reeves with a terrible British accent? Of course not. For a film all about blood, this movie was bloodless.

Signed: Feminist Fury


Featured image shows the words “Ellements of Film” superimposed over a photo of the latest “Dracula” from the movie poster.

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