Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Starring Benjamin Walker, Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson, Erin Wasson, Robin McLeavy, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Joseph Mawle, Laura Cayouette, John Rothman. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, from his novel.
With a title like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you might expect some kind of ironic dark comedy; the image that immediately came to my mind was of pop artist Brandon Bird’s King of the Cage, which features a bare-chested Abe pummeling some thugs, Road House style. How could a movie about Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires be presented any other way?
Well, how about dead serious? That’s right: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows) from his novel and directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), presents its story of Honest Abe hunting down vamps straight-faced almost all the way, devoid of humor, though there is a great wink-wink gag at the very end.
On one level, I respect the intentions: the deadpan manner with which the story is told gives way to some ribald unintentional comedy, which is maybe the point. On another level, it’s impossible for us to take this thing seriously or get invested in the story or characters, resulting in a tough sit.
And on another level, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is vaguely offensive, trivializing the life and accomplishments of the American president with its outlandish premise. Vampires, you see, were responsible for the murder of his mother and the death of his four-year-old son. And who was responsible for slavery in the South and the Civil War? Yeah, that’s right: vampires. While this wouldn’t be an issue in a comedy, of course, it doesn’t mesh with the serious nature of the presentation.
Lincoln, played by Benjamin Walker, witnesses the murder of his mother at a young age and vows revenge; years later, when exacting that revenge, he discovers the murderer (Martin Csokas) has supernatural powers. Luckily, vampire hunter Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) is on hand to train Lincoln to fight these creatures; in return, he must follow Henry’s instructions of who to kill and when.
Seeing Abraham Lincoln chopping down vampires with a silver-garnished axe should be plenty fun; unfortunately, Walker is a young Abe throughout the majority of the film, minus trademark beard and stovepipe hat. Hell, he doesn’t even look like Lincoln; he could be anyone, and for the longest time the film fails to live up to its title.
Visually, the film looks pretty awful; post-production 3D conversion probably didn’t help. The 3D is poorly done but also under-utilized; it never becomes too much of a distraction. But on top of that, the film feels too sharp (likely a side effect of the conversion), as if the entire movie was run through a sharpening filter, and too faux-murky-drab, as if the filmmakers attempted to recreate the old-timey feel cheaply and quickly in post-production.
That’s not all: in an attempt to cover up some weak CGI, the action sequences throw so much other junk at the screen that they become a jumbled mess. During a horse stampede sequence, which is otherwise well-shot and edited to appear coherent, there’s all this dust in the foreground to go with a blinding sunset in the background; you’re barely able to make out what’s happening on the screen.
Apart from all these other qualms, my biggest problem with the film lies in story propulsion: we move from one major event in Lincoln’s life to the next with little of the internal logic required to get from point A to point B. Henry tells Abe the vampires are coming. The vampires come. Why? Why now? There’s a silver pocket watch that’s meant to be some kind of recurring story device, but the logic behind its significance raises more questions than it answers.
With a title like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you know you’re not getting high art; the filmmakers, however, seem to be thinking along different lines. Still, there’s a charm in the earnestness with which they present their movie. I kinda admire it for existing at all.