Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Erin Wasson, Rufus Sewell
Review: 3.25 stars (of five)
Review: 4 stars
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. The title tells you right away whether it’s the kind of thing you might like. I can say to you “The Adjustment Bureau,” or “Haywire” and you have no idea what they are about. This title tells you what to expect: a film that’s violent, effects-heavy, and goofy as a tweaking rugby fan. What you might find surprising is how well the film works. The screenplay is solely credited to the writer of the original novel, Seth Grahame-Smith, and does a great job of mixing the absurd with the heartfelt. There’s real character stuff here, written in broad, self-aware cliches yet played with magnificent restraint and sincerity by a committed pair of leads, Benjamin Walker and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Turning one of our most revered and dignified presidents into an action hero in service of a schlocky horror concept sounds like sacrilege. It’s startling how much admiration the filmmakers seem to have for the great man, even as they have him slashing armies of the undead with a silver-coated ax.
While the probably inevitable descent into the bloated ugliness of the Civil War is a little heavy for a wacky horror adventure, the script does the job. And in a world where racist jackasses still pretend the Confederate flag represents anything but shame, you have to love seeing the Confederacy revealed as tools of fanged horrors who fill entire gray-clad regiments.
It’s hard to accept any vampire movie that lets its undead walk around in bright sunshine, but between Blade and the wretchedness that is Twilight, that battle is probably lost for at least a generation. At least the undead remain evil, and unsparkly.
Read that title again. If it appeals to you, this film won’t let you down. If it doesn’t, it might surprise you.
Review: 2.5 stars
I’m fairly certain the decision to turn Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter into a movie was made before a single page of the novel had been written. The producers of the film didn’t buy a story, they bought a title. What if the 16th president of the United States secretly fought a private war against the legions of the undead? That gloriously stupid premise is stretched to paper thinness in a marginally successful attempt to make an entire feature film out of four-word pitch.
The key to enjoying this movie is to not think about things too much. Is this movie trivializing slavery and the deaths of thousands of American soldiers during the Civil War? Probably. Does it even bother to follow its own convoluted vampire mythology? Not really. If you become a vampire you will turn into a soulless monster – unless you don’t. And vampires cannot attack each other, ever – unless they can.
The movie is least successful when it is forced to shoe-horn the real events of Lincoln’s life into the plot. For instance, he meets and marries Mary Todd played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who wanders around the rest of the film looking for a purpose that the script simply fails to produce.
But truth be told, you won’t give a shit. What Abraham Lincoln lacks in plot and basic internal logic, it makes up with in non-stop action and fantastic set-pieces—including a breathtaking finale on a hell-bound steam train. The strategy appears to be that it’s hard to hate the plot when so little of it made it to the screen.
Seeing Lincoln cut a swath through an army of nosferatu with an axe is just plain fun. In this short lull between summer blockbusters, that’s probably enough.