Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel
Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rufus Sewell
Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality
Running Time of 105 Minutes
Although the title and concept are absurd, I quite enjoyed Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. The book was clever and fun, and it paid surprising reverence to the history and mythology of one of our most famous Presidents. A mere 2 years after its release, produced by Tim Burton and complete with a sizable budget and a June release date, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is presented to audiences as a summer spectacle. Unfortunately, however, despite being adapted by Grahame-Smith himself, much has been lost in translation.
Although not a long novel, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter does a surprisingly good job of telling the entire tale of Lincoln’s life. Though a film adaptation of a novel should always be looked at as its own entity, often without the concerns of fidelity, one of this film’s biggest issues is its pace and its brevity. It is unclear as to whether this is the fault of Grahame-Smith’s screenplay or if the film was edited down from a longer version, however Abe plays fast and loose with time and in the end does not present a clear picture of President Lincoln or his friends and family. One of the film’s clear goals is to paint a true (enough) picture of Lincoln as he actually was as a man (with the horror and action mashup elements as a secondary spin), however in this regard the film betrays itself. There are considerable gaps in time which hinders logic and makes for a muddled and confusing film.
As Abraham Lincoln, relative newcomer Benjamin Walker is quite good. Walker is charismatic and affable and has true star power. His evolution from a young man hell-bent on revenge to the 16th President of the United States is believable thanks to Walker’s subtle choices in voice and posture, and some terrific make-up. Despite Walker’s best efforts, though, the time gaps mentioned above nearly ruin what he accomplishes. Approximately half way through the film it is briefly mentioned that Lincoln might be interested in politics and then, with almost nothing, we cut to Lincoln as President. The transition is jarring to say the least, and it makes the character’s evolution quite cheap. If the film slowed down just a little bit to show a more natural course it could have added more impact to the action-packed climax and the character beats. Even stranger, although Lincoln clearly aged considerably, most everyone else around him appears to be the same age. The make-up effects used are too subtle in contrast with the obvious work done on Lincoln. A nitpick, perhaps, but a jarring one.
In its betrayal of pace and character, then, we are left with the film’s horror and action elements. Though the film attempts to marry the vampires with United States history, it is not done in an elegant or clever manner and it comes off as a bit too forced. In his short career, director Timur Bekmambetov has always favored action and visuals over character and story. Although his previous work is mostly fun, he takes that modus operandi to the extreme in Abe Lincoln. Faced with the melding of history and horror, Timur succumbs to his worst tendencies, and the film is riddled with bloody and admittedly well choreographed but also dark and dingy sequences of slow motion vampire hunting. The action scenes become too long and repetitive, and Timur relies far too much on Matrix-style action sequences that worked well in some of his other films but seem tonally wrongheaded in a period piece. As inherently silly as the film’s concept is, by adding the decidedly new technological stamps it adds another strange and unnecessary layer. Faced with a smallish (by blockbuster standards) $70 million dollar budget, Timur and his team have designed 2 action sequences in particular that are perhaps a bit too big for the film to chew off properly. We are left, then, with cartoonish and poorly rendered sequences filled with the over-saturation of Timur’s action style. Although cheap criticism, I will freely admit that this film gave my a headache.
Well intentioned and potentially fun, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter at the very least has a quality leading man that attempts to carry the film on his shoulders. Unfortunately, despite Walker’s best efforts and a decent supporting cast, the film crumbles within itself. If Bekmambetov knew how to slow down his pacing as well as he slows down his action scenes, he could have crafted a more fun and smart film. Instead we are left with a product that is ugly, loud, and far too overblown for its own good.