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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Movie Review - -

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Reviewed by Morgan Qasabian on August 3rd, 2012
presents a film directed by Tim Bekmambetov
Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel 'Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter'
Benjamin Walker, Marton Csokas, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Anthony Mackie
Running Time:
105 mins
Rating: MA
Released: August 2nd, 2012


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter traces the trajectory of Lincoln’s (Benjamin Walker) life from early childhood to the eve of his death. The film starts with Abraham witnessing the murder of his mother by the vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) and with Lincoln as a young adult attempting to avenge his mother’s murder. This attempt at revenge goes awry and Lincoln is saved by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper). Henry takes him in and gives Lincoln an education on vampires and how to kill them. Lincoln moves to Springfield, Illinois and works in Joshua Speed’s (Jimmi Simpson) general store, studies the law and kills vampires by night. He agrees to only kill vampires Henry directs him to. It is here that he meets his future wife, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and is reunited with his childhood friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie). Years later, President Lincoln learns that the vampires are fighting with the Confederates, so he takes it upon himself to fight the fight his generals cannot.

The film is bookended with a rather deeply pitched Lincoln intonating, “History prefers legends to men, nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battles, but forgets the blood.” Herein lies the premise of the film: the history books are wrong because the 16th President of the United States was a vampire hunter! It is part of the genre that blurs historical fiction and revisionism that has popped up in recent years, the best example of which is 300 (2006). I call it the new wave of historical revisionist science fiction. It is very interesting that such a major retelling of Honest Abe’s life could be made into a film. Lincoln’s legacy is still a divisive topic for Americans, with both sides of the political divide laying claim to him. This is delicate stuff and something not to be trifled with. The film can’t but help ride roughshod over any notion of tact—quite literally in one migraine inducing scene featuring a myriad of poorly computer generated mustangs.

The craft of the film is bungled to say the least. The first thing that one notices when donning the cumbersome light absorbing 3D glasses (they always makes me self-aware of my nose, forcing me to adjust and readjust my glasses for the duration of the film) is that the colour of the film is incredibly desaturated, creating a pseudo-sepia quality to the film. When this is combined with the frenetic action sequences, it makes for unwatchable cinema. The action scenes follow the basic structure of an explosion of energy (that is incredibly hard to keep track of), followed by super slow-motion, ending with the dispatching of the vampire. The CGI employed truly makes the film look like a video game, which would explain the killer c-c-c-combo Lincoln uses again and again and again. It is not just the action scenes that follow a fast-slow pattern, but the pace of the film as a whole.

Abe’s childhood to the obligatory training montage seems to take only a few minutes, with one scene jumping to the next as quickly as it appeared on the screen. Then the pace slows down. Way down. The middle of the film drags on, as if to compensate for the previous leaps in the story. Then there is the third act, which begins by Abe hanging up the axe of his youth, and instead donning a beard and wrinkles to fight Civil War and the vampires that aid in the Confederate cause. The Civil War seems to consist of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and Gettysburg, with vampires filling the ranks of Pickett’s division that made the charge at Gettysburg. The treatment of the Civil War is even more hole-laden than this. When he was still studying the law Lincoln visits the head vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell). Adam tells Abe that in his five thousand years of existence he’d seen Jews enslaved by the pharaohs, Christians burned by the Romans, and now the vampires want a nation for their own kind. This gives an interesting twist to Abraham’s concern to uphold the Union when it is revealed the vampires have found common cause with the Confederates: now the Union is for all living humans, and not the undead. Though, this insight is tarnished with the film’s attempt to make Lincoln into a principled abolitionist, which is introduced to him in his youth by his mother. She tells him "until everyone is free, we are all slaves." It is this latter motivation that the film sets out to portray as the more important of the two.

The film is full of many what-could-have-been moments. Just as the script transformed Lincoln’s realpolitik aim of preserving the Union, to a universalist humanist concept, the script could have explained Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus as a way of combating vampires; in keeping with the rehabilitation of Lincoln’s image that the film attempts for example. I was happy to see a particular ball scene at Adam’s plantation. I thought the director Timur Bekmambetov was paying homage to classic vampire films such as Roman Polanski’s Dance of the Vampires but the scene lasted barely a few seconds. It was one of the few parts I wished were longer, and wouldn’t have minded if other scenes were cut for its prolongation.

This is not to say that it is a lazy script. There are many attempts at plot twists and turns, humour and other dramatic devices. None of which really worked on me, as I did not feel invested in the story to be moved as much as scriptwriter Seth Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov intended. There are shocking revelations about Lincoln’s mentor Henry and intrigue involving double and triple crossings for example. What-could-have-been coolest of all, a dramatically ironic conversation between Henry and Lincoln at the end of the film. I’ll leave it up to the readers’ minds what this could be about. Protip: it involves going to the theatre. At this point in the film, specifically the end, I couldn’t really appreciate it. Not after seeing what had preceded it. Overall Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a disappointing film, in part because of the editing and craft of the film, as well as the script. It isn’t just history that prefers legends to men, Hollywood does as well. But for Hollywood, the sillier and more preposterous the better!


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