Based on the classic video game series – specifically its third entry – Castlevania sees Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), the last surviving member of the Belmont family of monster hunters, unwittingly set out to save the country of Wallachia. A country dominated by religion and consumed by fear, Wallachia must be saved from a vengeful Dracula (Graham McTavish), who has set out his army of demons to destroy the land.
For Netflix, this stands out from the rest of their current roster, offering something different from their other exclusive adult animated series such as BoJack Horseman. In terms of cinematography and directing, the show is an absolute knock out.
“Demons carrying dead babies.”
The gruesome and nightmarish visuals constructed by director Adi Shankar, such as demons carrying dead babies and eyes being ripped out of their sockets, create a real sense of danger. Plus, there is nothing wrong with a vampire show packing blood, not a lot of shiny ‘monsters’.
Netflix has shown itself this year increasingly willing to push the boat out, and whilst not as controversial as 13 Reasons Why or more recently To the Bone, its grizzled and gory action is refreshing in a sea of highly crude adult animated comedies.
Praise should be given to Shankar for the evolution of Wallachia into almost a character within the show, with the gruesome visuals and foreboding sense of danger personifying the land into a place you do not want to be. When combined with the autumnal colour palette, we are left with a kingdom with more character than most of its surrounding cast.
“The characters somewhat let the show down.”
Character development was always going to be difficult with a show so short – Castlevania does not get the normal Netflix treatment of 13 episodes, rather four – and as a result, the characters somewhat let the show down. Trevor is cool, and maintains a strong enough anti-hero persona, but other characters are given too little screen time for the audience to care. Dracula is notably absent, and religious figureheads are left underdeveloped, leaving them trapped in the archetypal ‘evil priest’ role.
The short duration of the series also impacts on the story, which whilst compact and fast moving, packs very few twists and stops just as it begins hitting its flow. Luckily for viewers though, Netflix has already announced that the show will be back with an eight-episode second season, and there are many reasons to give the series a chance.
“The writing is sharp.”
Alongside its gruesome direction, the writing is sharp and profane enough to feel gritty rather than immature. The action sequences are also an unsung highlight of the show. Whilst not as impressive as something like Daredevil, they are highly engaging and exciting, leaving you wanting more. For fans of the video game series there are nice nods to its roots as well, such as the classical soundtrack which gels nicely with the action.
In conclusion, the first season of Castlevania is a great platform for a future series. Its short length may leave characters underdeveloped and the story simplistic, but the show shines elsewhere. Ferocious pacing, gruesome action, stellar writing, gore and enough nods to satisfy existing fans, this first season will leave viewers hungry for more.