Historical fictions sometimes veer a little bit from the realm of possibility and dabble in anachronism. Rarely do they dive headfirst into the land of fantasy and introduce well-known horror elements into the fold. That’s precisely the case with ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’
A young Abraham Lincoln (eventually played by Benjamin Walker) intervenes when his father’s boss, Jack Barts (Martin Csokas) beats a young African American boy named William Johnson (eventually played by Anthony Mackie). This causes Abe’s father to be fired and incurs the wrath of Jack. You see, this plantation owner is also a vampire. He bites Abe’s mother that night and she dies. The young man is obsessed with revenge.
Nine years later, he sees Jack again and discovers the true extent of the vampire’s powers. Before he is killed, Abe is rescued by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a vampire hunter. He then trains the young man and teaches him about bloodsuckers. An important fact is that the vampires in America descend from a fellow named Adam (Rufus Sewell), who lives on a plantation with his sister Vadoma (Erin Wasson).
Even more years later, Lincoln goes to Springfield, Illinois and, under Henry’s instruction, begins to exterminate the undead in town. He meets a young woman named Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls for her despite being warned against forming attachments. Eventually, Lincoln is given permission to kill Jack which he does but this puts a target on his back for vampires to come out of the woodwork to come after him.
Will one of our most popular presidents even live long enough to ascend to office? Will he kill all of the vampires? Will he be able to sustain a love life?
If this all sounds like an incredibly stupid historical fiction, then you would be right. The plot is mind-numbingly goofy. Then again, how surprised can we be since this comes from the same author as ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.’ It’s meant to be taken as a fun summer action film. How seriously can you take a film where two characters fight while literally running and jumping from horse to horse during a stampede?
The problem with this is that there is some weighty material tackled, like the whole slavery thing and the Civil War. That really messes with the tone and it’s hard to see how one could strike a balance between framing the story in a proper historical context and doing a horror-fantasy. Maybe it’s a fun read, but it’s a bizarre and unwieldy combination on film. Then there is also the assertion that much of the South was made up of vampires and the only way that the North won was by melting all of the silver down into bullets and bayonets. Perhaps that would have worked better if there was a small pocket of vampires instead, because having that happen on such a large scale is hard to buy.
Most of the structure is very traditional with revenge as motivation, followed by a training montage, revelations about the mentor, with a little more revenge and the stakes being raised even more. Lincoln is also reunited with William, so he has another sidekick to help.
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov has given us ‘Wanted’ and, before that, broke out with his still-incomplete series which has the movies ‘Nightwatch’ and ‘Daywatch.’ Most of his work has an over-the-top action style which requires being in a certain mood to enjoy such heightened reality. Expect lots of needless slow motion. In fact, most of the action sequences are the best part of the film while the more sedate moments, as important as they are, are a little dull. This shows Bekmambetov’s strengths. To partially contradict that point, a climactic train scene has both some of the best and worst visual effects of the whole film. Also know that Tim Burton was involved with the film in a production capacity.
Unfortunately, most of the story concentrates on a young Abe, which is lacking the trademark beard and presidential ‘look’ that we have come to identify with. Later in the story, we jump ahead in time and the makeup effects are very strong for our president.
Special features include: a look at adapting the book for the screen and some commentary.
‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ will surely be loved by throngs of early/mid teens because of all the ‘cool’ action and historical distortion. For most of the rest of us, it will fall somewhere between ‘cool’ and ‘awful’ depending on your tolerance for this stuff.
Rated R 105 minutes 2012