Friday, August 3, 2012

New Release Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov, 2012)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a 3D fantasy adventure film adapted for the screen by Seth Grahame-Smith from his own novel of the same name (he also wrote another genre mashup, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Night/Day Watch) who also co-produces by Tim Burton and Jim Lemley. It is a bold and somewhat uneven blend of historical biography epic and B-grade slasher film, and with a premise as silly as transforming one of the United States' most iconic Presidents into a secret axe-wielding hunter of the undead, it is much darker and serious than I would have expected. Nevertheless, with its considerable visual style, and energetic action sequences (which vary from being absolutely ridiculous, to spectacularly impressive) Abraham Lincoln remains surprisingly entertaining.

When avenging the death of his mother, believed to have been poisoned when he was a boy by the plantation owner, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), whom his parents worked for, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), discovers that vampires exist in the world. He is aided by a man named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who offers to train him in the art of vampire detection and how to be an elite Vampire Hunter, also informing him that the Vampires in America descend from Adam (Rufus Sewell), who owns a plantation in New Orleans with his sister, Vadoma (Erin Wasson). After completing his training, and lining his choice weapon - an axe - with silver, Lincoln travels to Springfield, Illinois. There he awaits selected targets assigned by Sturgess, anticipating the day he can finally kill Barts.

While in Springfield Lincoln befriends a shopkeeper, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who boards him and offers him a job, and meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who would eventually become his wife. He also reunites with his childhood friend, William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), and begins to study law. While wrestling with the choice to finish his mission or pursue his feelings for Mary, Lincoln learns a secret about Sturgess, and instead of continuing to hunt vampires, decides to pursue a political career and campaigns to abolish slavery (which keep the Vampires under control). But years later when the nation, his family and William are placed in danger by Adam, who has deployed vampires to the confederate frontline of the Civil War struggle, Lincoln is forced to pick up the axe again.

Walker, a complete unknown to me, secures himself screen presence with his impressive stature, but he is unspectacular overall. Not knowing the cast at all meant that the supports - Cooper, Mackie, Sewell (as hammy as ever) and Winstead especially - were a pleasant surprise. Abraham Lincoln is at its best when immersed in an action sequence, and though they are ridiculous - one in particular involving leaps between a herd of galloping horses comes to mind - they are often more intelligently staged than when the character's are conversing. The scenes featuring Cooper are given a lift by his charisma, but scenes shared by Walker and Winstead are especially lacking in evident chemistry and are too rushed to generate anything on an emotional level.

But character development and historical accuracy are not what this film is about. Having said that, the introduction of key historical events, and sensitive ones at that, via the human/vampire conflict is a strangely amusing deviance, and Lincoln's dual professions are balanced in an oddly credible way. It is all about the highly stylised action sequences, which are impressively choreographed and photographed, and make inventive use of slow-motion and 3D, aware of them as gimmicks but utilising them to the purposefully energise the action. Also impressive are the visual effects used to recreate 19th Century American cities, in particular New Orleans and Washington. The spectacular finale on board a train - which jolted me out of a brief stint of boredom about two-thirds in - truly left me in awe with its absurdity, and gravity defying extremes.

Though resorting to jump scares a lot of the time - and I have to admit some of them were effective - the tension of some of the action sequences was diminished by the attention to style over building genuine stakes. It is in these highly-stylised action sequences where this film thrived, and where the disappointingly uncommon presence of 'fun' stemmed from. Not so convincing is the shift in the final third to make Lincoln's struggle not only to overthrow slavery and unite the nation, but also rid it of Vampires. If you know you will struggle to accept the mashup of historical biopic and an alternate take on Vampire lore than this film isn't for you. I enjoyed Abraham Lincoln more than I expected, and while not essential viewing in the cinema, considering the price of 3D, its not one to disregard.

My Rating: ★★★ (C+)


  1. Reading your review, it seems like this is more so a film that would be added to my list of B-movies that I watch on a pretty-much weekly basis than I first thought!

  2. I don't think this movie is for me, but based on your review, it does sound visually well made and interesting.

  3. Bekmambetov's work always - and I mean ALWAYS - seems to be style over substance; while this is not a bad thing in itself most of the time, I think it prevents the films he makes from reaching broader audiences and building a fanbase. I will see this, no doubt, when it comes to BluRay, but seeing the trailer a while back I just know it's not a film filled with dazzling character development and a riveting storyline. It just seems to be action for the sake of it....

    1. You're pretty spot on with your assumptions. It is action-packed but purely for style/gimmick sake. I had some fun - and though it takes itself quite seriously a lot of the time it is silly beyond belief - and it offered up a few scares and a few impressive action set pieces. Low expectations helped too.