July 10, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Run Time: 105 mins

Review by Martin Goolsarran

Consider this. If’ John Carter’ had slapped a slightly more revealing moniker on itself it might not have been quite the monumental flop it turned out to be. Saying that, as well as it summarises itself, you might also find yourself hard pressed to find a title or film this year that will rival the idiocy of 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter!' 

Going back to his roots, and trying once again to capture the dark charm and mystique of vampire culture
as he did with the excellent ‘Day Watch' and ‘Night Watch' films, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s latest skewed offering seems to have almost fallen off the vampire compass.

Circa 1820, slavery is still strongly in effect in America’s Deep South. A young Abraham Lincoln witnesses the murder of this mother at the hands of a vampire. Cut to ten years later and now a young man, Abe (Benjamin Walker) has nothing but vengeance in his heart and seeks bloody retribution upon his mother’s killer. A failed attempt on his intended target brings him to the attention of wayward lothario Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), who just so happens to run a personal line in vampire slaying. Quick to learn the art, Abe proves to be the perfect apprentice. At the behest of his new mentor Abe is dispatched to undertake his new found slaying skills on a list of unassuming vampire figures. With the help of new accomplice Joshua (Jimmi Simpson) and boyhood friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), the pursuit of his mother’s killer unearths a bigger, darker conspiracy helmed by vampire overlord Adam (Rufus Sewell).

Now a favoured man of the people and taking the bloody high road as far as he can, Abe forgoes vampirehunting to take escalate his political machinations and win his fight for a unified America. Jump forward to the 1860’s and Abraham Lincoln is now president and waging war on the south, while vowing to end its mandate of expanding slavery throughout the United States. All the while Adam and his Vampire contingent lends itself to aid the confederacy in order to preserve their race and bring down the president and the future of modern America with it. Lincoln must once again take up a fighting stance to root out the demons of his past and forge the future of his beloved country.

The premise of ABVH suggests itself to be something of a fun, daft, yet entertaining parody, which for the most part is what it is. It is on this level the film works. But on the other hand, you also get a dark, historical subject matter that attempts to be serious whilst also trying to say something profoundly stupid, like, the eradication of slavery is parallel to the extinction of the vampire race! This is where the film shows its biggest flaw. Trying to couple farce with historical facts really doesn’t work as the film cannot make up its mind what it wants to be. The content is too heavy to make light of, just as the fantasy concept is a just a little too ridiculous to get behind it.

As with many things wrong at work here, it stretches the realm of the supernatural just a bridge too far, with little justification or regard for the vampire genre. Whereas more modern slants like the’ ’Blade’ , ‘Underworld and the ‘Twilight’ series remain true to the rudiments of vampirism but approach the genre with a fresh impetus, here the fabled continuity doesn’t quite add up. They seem to have re-written the book on vampire folklore by over-exaggerating the bits they like and reducing the rest of it to mere folly; yes, these vamps can be defeated by fire, just as much as they indulge in being day-walking, Kung Fu fighting confederates at the battle of Gettysburg!

The heavy use of landscape shots and daylight settings gives no sense of ambience that is consistent with the shadowy movements of the creatures of the night. The humour is incredibly thin on the ground, virtually non-existent other than the exception of a CGI horse thrown 360 degrees at Ben Walker when caught up in a cattle stampede.

The performances for the most part are effortless, considering the amount of talent involved. Benjamin Walker plays it as pedestrian as they come, offering nothing to illuminate the Abraham Lincoln character. With a solid body of work on his CV Anthony Mackie should be aiming a little higher than this, though his role as kind of ‘Booker.T.Washington’ character is quite passable. The Brits give the film a bit more balance as Dominic Cooper’s hammed-up, gun-toting playboy does his bit well enough, though it is Rufus Sewell that casts a little more radiance by bringing some kind of presence to the otherwise clichéd un-dead demigod.

Although the intentions of the film are in the right place, the end product falls flat on its face as the result is a mockery of mish-mashed historical facts lost in a flashy maze of over-exposed CGI stunts and sub-standard folklore clichés.

So let me end with a quote from the man himself Abraham Lincoln, (the vampire hunter, not the actual president): “History prefers legends to men, soring speeches to quiet deeds and remembers the battles, not the blood“. Touching words, but let’s just say that had the makers of this film kept the same magnanimous sentiment in mind they might have also considered that great films etch their way into the history books just as bad ones make their way to the bottom of the dvd bargain bin.