Monday, April 25, 2016

Dracula (2016) – review

Director: Mark Andres

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

How to describe this release? Andres describes his work as Kinographic Novels and I suppose that is as good a title as any. Essentially it is a merger of the graphic novel and the silent movie, Andres producing stills that are cut into a film, with intertitles and music. The music is, in this case, provided by Rachel Knight and I will discuss that later in the review.

The artwork is incredibly stylistic, sketches upon (mostly) sepia backgrounds – though sometimes, like a silent movie, a blue shade is used depicting night. I’ll mention the art with the music but first let’s look at the story.

It is a retelling of Dracula and, like every retelling, Andres adapts it freely and the majority of the review is going to look at some of the differences/inclusions. There is definitely an aspect of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens with the Count called Orlock Szekely – this is also from the novel as the Count says “We Szekelys have a right to be proud”, though in that context Szekely was an ethnic extraction (Hungarian, in fact) rather than a name. In this he is also known as Dracula.

castle Dracula
As in Nosferatu, Harker's idiosyncratic employer sends Harker to the Count, though the employer is Renfield and not Knock and the home country is England and not Germany. Harker is engaged to Mina and she determines to holiday with Lucy in Whitby in Harker’s absence. An interesting change, in the castle, is that Harker finds a tunnel annexed to the crypt that is a mass grave, filled with (presumably) victims. Given a change that Andres brings in I thought more could have been done with the shaving mirror scene, but that only occurred to me later in the film.

The bigger changes occur in the England sections. Lucy is proposed to by three suitors but there is no subsequent part played by Quincy or Arthur in the main narrative. She rejects all three and only Jack Seward maintains a presence in the story. Mrs Westerna (as Westenra is amended to) is a racist – probably typically for the nineteenth century timeframe – and verbally attacks Van Helsing as a Jew. This is the major change in the story as, by becoming a Jew, the normal Christian iconography is all but gone. Primarily he uses Yam Hamelah (as stated in the intertitle though the spelling should be HaMelach, or the Dead Sea) salt, this is used for sealing Lucy’s tomb, purifying the boxes of earth and burning Mina’s forehead. As a Jew is unlikely to hold a cross up to ward a vampire away, he uses mirrors. The intertitles tell us that not only do vampires not reflect in mirrors but they fear them (and mirrors left in Lucy’s bedroom, when she is alive, are found smashed after a visitation from Dracula). This is why I felt more could have been done in the shaving mirror scene.

a bride
Mina takes a very forceful lead in the film, which was out with the late nineteenth century, but was actually rather nice to see and worked well – especially as the heroes’ numbers had been curtailed. Whilst bitten and forced to drink Dracula’s blood (as was Lucy) and also forced to admit her frustration (the marriage is unconsummated and this is suggestive of a sexual element to Dracula's predation and a cuckolding that other adaptations have also explored) she is still a strong central character. I thought the questioning of whether Lucy had been sexually molested by her father was potentially interesting but unexplored. The brides’ features appear to be illusionary – one takes the form of Van Helsing’s wife, and they are subsequently revealed as hideous when looked at correctly.

first encounter
There were, of course, other changes but these were, for me, the most notable ones. On to the art, and I was really taken with it. I thought the sketch style suited the project and was really rather beautiful – believe me, I was left with loads of screenshots to work through and pare down to those with the review. The filming of the art and the movement through the stills – this is not an animation – was done with a deft eye. This conspired with the music which was guitar based and hypnotic, to draw the viewer in. I hate to try and describe the music style, it was almost an ethereal drone, but whatever you call it, it worked exceptionally well. Perhaps the weakest element was the intertitles, the writing strength fluctuated and some were good but others were off slightly. There were some spelling errors occasionally – mistakes happen but when your primary narrative is in a written form they can be especially jarring. Most notable was the arrival at Witby rather than Whitby.

the Demeter
However, this is a work of art and clearly a labour of love. One can only imagine the work put into it and, for me, it was well worth the effort. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, I realise, but I really did enjoy the adaptation, the artwork, the music and the experience. Kinographic Novels have a homepage and a Facebook Page and, if I may be so bold, I’d love to see what Mark Andres could do with Carmilla. 7 out of 10 and a final note that I loved the fact that, whilst still a solicitor, Renfield had a parrot called Vlad who said the phrase “Yes Master”.

At the time of review there is no IMDb page.

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