A film review by Craig J. Koban June 27, 2012
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER
2012, R, 105 mins.
2012, R, 105 mins.
Lincoln: country lawyer, Whig Party Leader,
member of the House of Representatives,
16th President of the United States, the Great Emancipator of the
American Civil War, the five-dollar bill guy, and...yes…vampire
the hilariously and absurdly titled ABRAHAM LINCOLN:
VAMPIRE HUNTER – taken from Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel of the
same name – tells a different story of the man that is widely considered
the greatest president in American history.
It's an origin tale of Honest Abe from his humble beginnings to
becoming Commander-in-Chief that many historical texts have already
taught us in high school, but what it reveals is that Lincoln was, in
fact, a highly trained assassin of the undead who wielded a silver laced
axe – with hidden shotgun in its handle - to decimate bloodsuckers that
were waging war on mankind.
The film has also confirmed one long time suspicion that I have
always had: ravenous nosferatus were in league with the Confederate States
of America during the Civil War, which made them anti-Union and
pro-slavery. Those sons of
aside, the biggest mistake that audiences will make heading into a
faux-history/horror film like this is to take it too seriously.
This is one silly, silly movie based on a single one-joke premise
derived alone from its title. Material
as limitlessly ludicrous as this can be played either (a) for schlocky
camp value and laughs or (b) fairly straight laced.
Going in I was expecting ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER to be an
all out farce, but the makers here have perhaps more compellingly laid out
Grahame-Smith’s source material with a relatively sincerity.
That’s not to say that the film takes itself too gravely, but the
overall solemnity in which it casts the material allows ourselves to buy into its
cockamamie premise and become more willing participants in the film’s
spectacle of counterfeit history.
The film does contain real history, mind you, but it's
balanced with monster flick underpinnings quite well.
In the end, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER becomes kind of an engrossingly – and, frankly,
surprisingly – entertaining mishmash.
first half of the narrative is based on Lincoln’s boyhood trauma of seeing vampires
attack slaves and, in particular, the murder of his mother by one of these
cruel monsters. The film
flashforwards to Lincoln as a young man (played by Benjamin Walker, who
looks astoundingly like the love child of Eric Bana and Liam Neeson) as he
continues to hold a serious grudge against his mother’s nocturnal
killer, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). This
leads Abe to have a chance encounter with the charismatic Henry Sturgess
(the reliably charismatic Dominic Cooper) who reveals to Lincoln that he
is an expert vampire hunter and killer extraordinaire.
Henry is willing to take Abe under his tutelage and teach him all
of the ways – both messy and messier – to rid the world of vampires,
but only if Abe divorces himself from all social distractions.
a swift ROCKY-esque training montage (during which Abe acrobatically
twirls around his axe with the swiftness and dexterity of a Cirque du
Soleil performer) the future lawyer and U.S. president moves to Springfield to
not only kill vampires, but to become a lawyer, then a politician, and
then a husband to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is none the
wiser as to Abe’s nightly skirmishes with vampires.
Eventually, the film moves forward in time again to the 1860’s
when the elder Lincoln has become president ands now finds his great
nation divided into Civil War after his signing of the Emancipation
Proclamation. Worse yet is
that the leader of the vampires as a whole, Adam
(Rufus Sewell) has allied himself with the Confederate
President Jefferson Davies, which will make for a nearly unbeatable
tandem on the battlefield against a far weaker Union army.
Alas, Lincoln has an ace up his sleeve when he finds a way of
ensuring the defeat of the Confederate/vampire army.
Spoiler alert: the North wins.
performances in the film are remarkably earnest considering its limitless outlandishness. Benjamin Walker
may lack a magnetism as an actor, but he more than makes up for that as a
tall and credible Lincoln in youth and in old age (most importantly, he
never devolves his take on Abe to the point of being a silly cartoon
figure, but rather inhabits the visage and spirit of Lincoln as he would
perhaps playing the role in a straightforward biopic). Dominic
Cooper is a nice foil to Walker that plays his vampire killer/mentor
figure with a full-bodied zest and determination.
And, yes, Mary Todd Lincoln is one serious babe in this film,
especially considering that she’s played by the luminous Winstead; even
she is given her moment to kick some vamp ass in the film as well,
something that no other First Lady has ever been compelled to do.
film frequently looks sensational, thanks largely to the vision of
Kazakh-born director Timur Bekmambetov, who previously helmed WANTED,
a film that I thought had some of the most vigorous and creatively
envisioned stunts and action scenes I’ve seen in a long while. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER lets Bekmambetov’s glossy,
ultra-high tech, CGI and slow-motion heavy, and frenetically paced
stylistic impulses loose with reckless abandon; he seems to be having a
ball with every moment of gory, artery-spewing, and bone crunching 3D
carnage (granted, seeing a young African slave boy whipped in a one
gimmicky, in-your-face, multi-dimensional wow moment felt more than a bit
sensationalistic and needlessly tawdry).
Nonetheless, Bekmambetov creates some truly bravura action
sequences, such as one chase scene involving Abe and his prey in the midst
of an endless number of horses galloping at full stride or a positively
thrilling showdown between Abe and Adam on top of a speedy train that
careens atop of a rickety woody bridge that’s been set ablaze, ready to
implode at any moment.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER misses the mark when it comes to areas of
macabre social and political satire (the notion that slave owners were
vampires elicits all sorts of scathing commentary, which is never
highlighted or acted upon in the film).
The main villains themselves are not really intriguingly developed,
and the sight of Sewell yet again playing his umpteenth movie villain
feels more perfunctory than ever (imagine the type of eerie bite that a
Michael Shannon could have infused in Adam).
The film also could have benefited from a bit more light-hearted
fun, but it still has some sly moments that generate big laughs in spite
of themselves. My favorite occurs after a sequence that shows the greenhorn vampire hunter that is
Lincoln failing to kill a member of the undead by shooting him in the eye
(these creatures require more icky methods of elimination).
After Henry offers his protégée several choices of firearms that
he rejects, he asks Abe what he would like to use. “Well,” he politely tells his teacher, “I used to be
pretty good at rail-splitting.”
And with that...an axe swinging, vampire decapitating, Civil War-era, slave-freeing, Presidential super hero was born. Plus, how cool is it to sit through a history film that's not just a dry regurgitation of established facts?