Sunday, October 6, 2013

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
2012. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Benjamin Walker
Dominic Cooper
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Anthony Mackie
Jimmi Simpson
Rufus Sewell
Marton Csokas
Erin Wasson
Jaqueline Fleming
John Rothman
Alan Tudyk

So you think you know all about Abraham Lincoln (Walker), don't you? I betcha didn't know he was a vampire hunter? Me neither. As the story goes, his mother was killed by a vampire when Abe was just a little boy. One thing leads to another and Honest Abe eventually finds himself under the tutelage of Henry Sturges (Cooper). After getting coached up in the ways of killing blood-suckers, our hero starts taking out all the local vermin in hopes of eventually getting to the one that made a meal out of his mom. Well, Abe soon finds out that his adversaries not only want to control the country, but slavery has provided the monsters with easy pickings. When faced with the seemingly impossible task of stopping an unstoppable enemy what else is a vampire hunter to do but run for President?

As ludicrous as it sounds, I’m actually rather accepting of the premise. After all, you don’t go into Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter expecting an accurate re-telling of our nation’s history. Still, the movie doesn't quite deliver what the title promises. Don’t get me wrong, Lincoln does plenty of vampire hunting and killing. The problem is it’s strikes a rather joyless tone as if it really were recounting a somber episode from our collective past. Maybe it’s my fault for reading too much into the title, or for not reading the novel this movie is based on, but I was expecting something more fun. I thought I was going to get a movie that understands how silly it is and just goes for broke right out the chute. Instead, I got a film that gives a serious effort at making its goofy plot work.

The filmmakers are to be commended for giving it a go. Unfortunately, the story doesn't hold together well enough to pull it off. The revenge motif that starts things is typical. It’s transition from personal vendetta to country saving mission is clunky. The big twist regarding one of Abe’s pals is telegraphed from the moment we meet this person. The Mary Todd (Winstead) storyline is awkward. Finally, Harriet Tubman (Fleming) is shoehorned in merely for the sake of including her. There is no context provided as to why she is of any importance for viewers who may not have a clue about her. As if to emphasize she’s in the movie, other characters keep calling her by her full name.

As fast and loose as AL: VH is with the historical side of things, it is with vampire lore. For starters, it gets into Twilight territory with regards to daylight. Thankfully, there’s no sparkling but the sun is no issue. Why it isn't is less than halfheartedly explained away. Don’t look for anything about crosses, wooden stakes, or holy water to be mentioned, either. Instead, we steal from werewolves and make silver their lone weakness. Of course, this is so that Abe can wield an axe with a silver-tipped blade.

Honestly, the axe gives us whatever enjoyment there is to be derived from sitting through AL: VH. It’s a sick weapon (sick the way the young’uns say it, geezers). It does all sorts of cool stuff. Therefore, the movie is at its best when it dispenses with everything except Abe in his axe-twirling, vamp killing glory. His fight scenes are fun and contain some interesting visuals. Some of the battle scenes between union troops and vampires dressed as confederates are solid as well. The climax, involving a train, is interesting but too predictable to carry a real charge.

In the end, AL: VH is a movie where whether you like it or not depends entirely on how much weight you give the action scenes. It’s too-serious tone invites us to pay attention to the story, but that part of the movie bogs down under the strain of trying to mix real history with pure fantasy. Had it not undertaken that massive task, simply put its tongue in its cheek and shown some self-awareness it could’ve been a campy cult classic. Instead, it’s just another movie whose ambition outreaches its ability.


  1. Good review Wendell. This movie was a lot of fun, believe it or not, but whenever they focused on the plot/story/history, it got boring. Also, should have been as ridiculous as the title suggested.

  2. Yes, it definitely needed more vampire hunting and less of the other stuff.