A film like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter needs little introduction. Following in the tradition of sensational film titles found in the exploitation films of the 70′s and 80′s, the title alone gives everything a potential viewer may need to know prior to seeing the film. Even if its based on a New York Times bestselling book, Timur Bekmambetov‘s (Wanted, Night Watch) adaptation is less interested in the scope the book presents and more in exploiting the visual ridiculousness of the present scenario. At this point I feel it’s important to mention that I come from the background of not being that big a fan of the book. Seth Grahame-Smith‘s novel does an adequate job recounting the details of Lincoln’s life – much like the hundreds of book that have come before it – but fails to deliver the goods for horror fans. It’s an absolutely silly idea to begin with and Smith seems to know this since he almost apprehensively injects a weak vampire mythos into the famous president’s life. Which, by all accounts, is quite interesting even before knowing “there was a secret journal” that revealed what ‘Honest Abe’ did during his free time (it’s not just chopping wood). Where Smith’s book revels in the historical accuracies and forgets to deliver exciting action sequences, Bekmambetov is able to achieve a balance that works extraordinarily well for 2/3 of the film.
History lovers and anyone with even a minimal knowledge of the famous president will recall some of the facts of Lincoln’s life presented in the film. Obviously, one of the joys found in the film is how these facts are twisted to incorporate blood thirsty beasts. What may surprise you though is how effortlessly these two dissonant worlds are combined. As a young boy, Abe is witness to the death of his mother after she is bitten by a vampire in the night. When he is old enough, vengeance overcomes him as he attempts to kill the man responsible for her death. A mysterious stranger thankfully saves the boy after he fails in his attempts. This saving grace is a vampire hunter named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Sturgess promises to give info to Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) regarding the man responsible for his mothers’ death in return that Mr. Lincoln helps rid this country of the vampires feeding off our country (insert political undertones here). As they say . . . the rest is history. We meet Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), we see Abraham studying law and giving speeches, and finally we see him lead a war against slavery and vampires in the climactic battle at Gettysburg.
Like I previously stated, the first 2/3 of the film works quite well. It’s almost shocking how fluid the film feels as we see the future president grow before our eyes. Not to mention the fact that his wielding of the axe against vampires is about ten times more fun and exciting than the previews and commercials show. I was never a fan of the footage I saw leading up to the screening. To me, the entire film looked cheap and uninteresting considering the amount of CGI heavy action sequences we have been treated to at the theaters lately. But while it may be easy to say that this is a much more engaging and fun version of Van Helsing or Jonah Hex, I would argue that is almost doing more of a disservice comparing it to those soulless films. Yes, it is better than those similar-minded films but it is much more than that as well. Even amid all of the endless slow-motion action sequences, axe-flipping, and digital landscapes, what grounds the film even more than the rich costumes designs and sets are the little-known actors filling the shoes of these larger than life characters. None of the actors in the film are relatively well-known A-list talent, and yet they all bring very human emotions to these characters despite their level of experience and considering the ridiculousness of the story. Benjamin Walker – who returns to the presidential seat after making a name for himself with the Broadway smash Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – really shines in the scenes prior to stepping into the Oval Office. It is when the film jumps quite abruptly to the presidential part of the film that the audience suddenly feels the stuffiness of the White House. The film finally gives the audience a chance to breathe and for some an invite for a nap as the story comes to a halt. It’s not too long though before we are treated to the epic finale involving a giant CGI train sequence that fans of the book will struggle with since the finale of the book is drastically different. Get used to it AL:VH fans. Even though writer Seth Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay as well, this is an entirely different beast. Not all the changes are bad though. One new and particularly exciting sequence can be found early on when Lincoln is forced to confront a vampiric pharmacist that doesn’t go exactly as planned. This is one of several scenes that portray a more brutal and gritty side of the film. These scenes are few and far between though as stylized slow-motion sequences soon take precedence once again.
If you are not even slightly interested in the film after reading the absurd title than I can almost guarantee that this president isn’t going to win you over. I do feel that my low expectations and my disappointment in the original source material has an impact on my level of unexpected enjoyment. Given the opportunity to see it in 3-D I would recommend seeing it that way versus the traditional projection. Even though the way some of the sequences were shot got tiresome after awhile, the 3-D always was an inviting aspect to the film even when the vampires’ heads are popping out at you amid floating dust and fog. While it may not seem like something you would initially praise, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s successful and extremely fun campaign might actually win you over and snag your vote.