Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe (reviewed here) was never going to be an easy story to adapt into a film, and its content alone would be enough to have it banned in nearly all countries if it was portrayed visually, so I was already expecting a lot of changes.
Then I found out its running time wasn’t even breaching 90 minutes, and I grew alarmed. As well as the introduction of new characters and also the removal of pivotal ones, I basically gave up hope on it being a faithful adaptation of the novel.
And it’s not. So much of the novel would have been impossible to capture on film, and taking the themes of the novel alone and crafting it into a separate story for the film would have been fine, but this didn’t happen. The resulting film seems like the writers read every second page of the novel and then halved what they read to write the screenplay.
It doesn’t merge the supernatural with the real the same way the novel does, and the denouement completely misses the pivotal points of the novel, especially the importance of family.
For those who have read the novel, the bloodlust, possession and ghost aspect simply doesn’t feature into the film. The film ultimately suggests it’s a matter of paranoia.
The novel crafts Europe in such a way that it seems like Isaac’s journey across Europe begins in the real world, but ends in a sort of masked underworld. This feeling isn’t present in the movie at all.
The film loses so much of the film’s haunting power by focussing on a theme of “sins of the father visited on the son” and as such, you would expect the notion of family to enter into the film so much more than it does.
It didn’t need to be a direct adaptation of the novel, but so much of the important features in the novel are simply not present at all, to a point where the very, very bare bones of the plot are present but little else.
In cherry-picking moments and themaes from the book, it’s also rendered the narrative of the film incoherent and muddled. It doesn’t help that they’ve changed so much, but things will suddenly happen towards the end with no build up or context, leaving the third act nigh incomprehensible.
However, as a film on its own, separate from the specifics of the novel, it’s a suitably moody and atmospheric film, as well as being beautifully shot. The score is also sublime, it’s justa film that falls short of its own ending. Ewan Leslie is perfect as Isaac, but as the Isaac from the novel. He rises above the rest of the performances as they’re so unlike anything in the source material. The film is still mystifying, but the novel is clearly the stronger of the two.
The film is worth seeing, just provided you know that the novel it’s based on is significantly different, and a much stronger story.