Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-06-22 08:57

Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďHowever history remembers me before I was a President, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth... "

Iím not sure what the point of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is. The concept sounds like a joke, but the film isnít particularly funny; instead, itís pretty serious about turning Honest Abe into an undead slayer. Even though itís an inherently and unconquerably silly concept, Iíd still roll be willing to roll with it if Seth Grahame-Smith did anything of note with it; instead, it turns out that itís just an empty mash-up--in other words, it is a joke, an internet meme come to life without a real punch-line. And, hey, Iíd even be okay with that serving as the basis of a cool action-horror mash-up with Timur Bekmambetov at the helm, but it never quite manages to even be this thanks to a turgid and ridiculous script thatís delivered without a hint of irony.

This apocryphal chapter in the sixteenth presidentís life begins at his childhood, where his hatred of slavery and vampires is drilled into him after an episode involving a black friend leads to a bloodsucker killing his mother. He grows up with a thirst for vengeance, and an enigmatic vampire hunter named Henry (Dominic Cooper) takes him under his wing and promises to quench that thirst. Thereís a requisite montage, and--bam!--Lincolnís a deputized vampire slayer who gets charged with carrying out Henryís mob-style hits on the undead. He meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is unaware of his nightly exploits, and this carries on long enough for Henry to reveal that this vampiric conspiracy extends all throughout the nation.

And this is where Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter begins to crumble, as it attempts to weave the presidentís real life heroic exploits (like his battle with slavery) with the fictional vampire hunting. The script almost pulls it off by having African slaves literally serve as the southís lifeblood, as it turns out the vampires have erected an empire in the south; in fact, it turns out that these guys have been up to no good for centuries, as they were also responsible for wiping out the natives when the Europeans made their conquest. It looks like Grahame-Smith is going to unload all of the white guilt and pin it onto vampires (which would be a bit frivolous and trivializing, but whatever), but it turns out that vampires are just part of the south that end up aiding the Confederacy once the Civil War breaks out, so the two plot threads never really intertwine in a meaningful way.

I suppose there was potential for this to be some kind of allegory, and thereís some nonsense about everyone being a slave in some way--Lincoln to his convictions, vampires to immortality, slaves to their race--but it turns out that all the characters are really just a slave to a dumb, contrived script where things happen just because they can and not because theyíre earned, which is a direct reflection of the entire project. This feels like it could easily have been George Washington: Zombie Killer if Grahame-Smith had pulled those two paper strips out of hat. Likewise, the various twists, turns, and character decisions feel like they were conjured up by a dart board. Case in point: the vampires know Lincoln is their biggest threat and theyíre seemingly cool with chilling out while he takes the highest office in the land. Likewise, Lincoln seems all but defeated when he learns that the Confederate cause is being aided by vampires and doesnít think to use silver until he recognizes the serendipitous placement of a fork--all this after a veritable lifetime of vampire hunting!

At any rate, one probably shouldnít think so hard about the plot of something called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, right? Bekmambetov tries his best to make you forget about it, loading the film down with slick action sequences full of the typical stylistic tics (read: lots of speed-ramping) and juicy gore (fair warning: most of it is CGI). There are moments when the film is thrilling--separate sequences involving horses and a train allow for a lot of inventiveness and even some fluid combat bits to make up for the one-note horror jolts (prepare to have a bunch of CGI vampire visages thrust at you). Even when the film settles down, itís a mostly gorgeous period piece, especially when itís bathed in moonlight (a brief detour down to the Bayou is dripping in Southern gothic atmosphere). Daylight exteriors suffer a bit from overblown contrast, and there's a consistent blurring around the edges of the frame that's a little distracting (this is presumably to mimic the look of photos of the age, but it looks like the film was shot on Instagram at times).

The cast is at least remarkably good; Benjamin Walker is a solid choice as Lincoln (not to mention a dead ringer for a young Liam Neeson) and inhabits the role with a suitable amount of charm and affability. Cooper is likewise a fine mentor and companion, while Winstead turns in another fine performance (disclaimer: all bets are off when some of these guys get buried under old age prosthetics--it gets a little ridiculous at that point). The villains are an unfortunately bland set--Marton Csokas starts out as the main baddie that kills Lincoln's mom, and heís an appropriately sniveling and weaselly henchman to Rufus Sewellís Adam, who does what he can in an underwritten role. There are times when Iím not even sure what his goals are--he claims he doesnít want to just live in the shadows, but heís been kicking around since Ancient Egypt without much incident, so itís convenient that he finally decides to form his own nation after Jefferson Davis and company have done some of the hard work for him.

Niggling little details like that consistently crop up and eventually add up to a nigh-incoherent script thatís neither smart enough or dumb enough to make the film fully enjoyable. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sounds like it should be a fake trailer on Grindhouse, but itís played too straight when itís the type of movie that should be loaded in so much cheese that even a rat might be repulsed. Even when a fully-bearded and top-hatted Honest Abe is mowing down vampires with an axe, it only feels like the realization of a joke that was only thought up for that particular moment--that right there is the entire joke, and itís admittedly cool in a vacuum. At the service of this film, though, itís an inherently cheeky moment in a confused and tone-deaf production. While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter confirms Bekmambetovís status as a great stylist, it also speaks to the folly of a film not being in on its own joke, even as he hurtles ahead with a slipshod script that elicits more groaners than genuine laughs. Rent it!

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