Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Review by Dustin Hall
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new movie, conceived as high entertainment, but doomed to mediocrity. Not all films are created equal.
Based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is one of those movies that, for no adequately explained reason, Hollywood finds so damn hard to to make and make well. Part of the problem seems to be from the genre mash-up, while other problems stem from the film’s script, and a number of deviations taken from the lauded source material.
The core of the story is still generally in-tact from the literary roots. Abe Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) grows and learns about vampires along with the audience, after the death of his mother in one’s foul clutches. He befriends another vampire, Henry (Dominic Cooper), who hates his own kind and trains Abe how to combat them. Ultimately, Abe’s vamp hunting and political trail both come together, when vampires conspire with the South during the Civil War, hoping to keep slavery alive in hopes that they can continue to purchase humans for their own consumption.
So, while that basic framework from the novel is there, many of the details have been changed to make the story more ‘movie-like’ or ‘xtreme’ or some such buzzwords. The subtle way that Lincoln comes to turn abolitionist is gone, in favor of a lot of goofy, heavy-handed whipping scenes witnessed by young Abe accompanied by hack-kneed catch phrases. Much of Abe’s political career is gone, including some maneuvers very important to the anti-vampire movement. The vampires are all evil, hissing, faceless baddies, the exposition machine Edgar Allen Poe is missing, and the ending has been truncated, made completely toothless. The script managed to take a humorous, clever, nuanced book and turn it into a kung-fu axe movie with vampire trappings.
That still wouldn’t kill the movie, if only the many disparate attitudes of the film weren’t so poorly handled. The title alone, Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, evokes humor. Yet somehow every attempt at a joke falls completely flat. If anything in the film garners laughs, it’s the attempts the film tries to make at drama. Even moments that could have been serious and heart-felt, like the death of Abe’s son William (Spoiler, I guess, if you haven’t read a lot of history books), fall into smirk-inducing disarray as Mrs. Lincoln punctuates her tears with limp-wristed slaps before running off-screen like a drama-school drop-out. If the movie wasn’t going to try to be a subtle or clever comedy, then surely it should have tried to be an extremely over-the-top exploitation type of film. Abe and ex-slave William could have gotten quite a bloody, sexy, quippy KKK-vampire hunt going in this film, something to the tune of Django Unchained, but alas, Timur Bekmambetov is no Tarantino.
So, all that leaves with us is the action, but even that turns out flat. Sure, its cool at first to see Abe whipping around an axe like nobody’s business, but with a few notable exceptions, there’s not much to see I haven’t gotten from any number of kung-fu movies before it. If the story isn’t up to par, the action falls flat. It wasn’t long into the movie before I was lulled by indifference into a waking coma, lost in the dark with a packed screening audience, all of us deathly quiet. Numb… so numb. If it weren’t for my love of Rufus Sewel (Dark City), who plays Adam, the oldest of vampires, I would have had very little reason to endure to the end.
Something really fun and great could have come out of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but instead we get a movie that isn’t really funny, or dramatic, or exciting, and certainly not scary. It just kind of…is. Neither a good adaptation of the novel, or a solid stand-alone, this is the summer’s biggest dropped ball, for sure.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is on general release in the UK now, and the US from Friday, from 20th Century Fox.