- Vancouver, British Columbia - Like most people, when I first heard of Seth Grahame-Smith's novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I chuckled. Steve Ferguson of Sour Grapes Winery has previous reviewed the novel, but this year, the film adaptation was released, which was also penned by Grahame-Smith, which shouldn't be entirely surprising considering Grahame-Smith's undergraduate studies in film and his previous work in television. Fantasy horror action films aren't too common these days, at least as feature films, thus when the opportunity came along to check out this strange looking film, I jumped at it.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tells a very different story from the one that we've all come to know about Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), the 16th President of the United States of America. Most of the facts are the same about his life, but in this film, we learn that Lincoln's motivations were sourced from a far stranger place than any of us would care to acknowledge, and as a character in the film, Lincoln suspects such be the case about how we will remember him. His mother was murdered by a vampire in Indiana, driving him to revenge against the man/vampire who wielded this heinous act against her. Lincoln attempts to carry out his attack, but fails, yet is saved by a mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Sturgess is a vampire hunter, we are told, and he trains Lincoln in the art of slaughtering vampires. Surprise, surprise. We quickly learn that much of Lincoln's raison d'être had very little to do with the famous virtues and ethics that we've grown to associate with him, but that his whole political career came about in order to rid the United States of America of vampires and carry out his vengeance against them and their evil ways.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter successfully transports us into the fantasy, leaving us feeling like we're in pre-Civil War America, even if many of our understandings of the events are being made out to be falsehood. For the most part, the revisionism works and is entertaining, though clearly we're not expected to believe it to be truth. This film is bit of a revisionist escapism, which is enjoyable. Yet it begins to get a little cluttered when it tries to rationalize the man history knows as Abraham Lincoln with the man the story claims as Abraham Lincoln. The 16th President, as I understand him to be, was one of many great ideals from which he sought to guide the country, but in this film, they come off as tacky sayings that you'd slap on a motivational poster. Generally speaking, it comes across as very thin. It was as if Grahame-Smith attempted to pay homage to Lincoln, but it all feels a little shallow.
Make no mistake, the story borrows elements of the character of Lincoln, while seeking to capitalize on the intrigue of one of the founding fathers of America battling vampires, who sadly are very much hip today. What doesn't work with this film is the episodic nature of it. Throughout viewing this film, I couldn't help but feel that Grahame-Smith had been too attached to each element in his novel narrative while adapting this into a screenplay. In the first act of the film, we're led to believe that Lincoln cares only about revenge against the vampire who murdered his mother, but once he achieves this, we're expected to believe that this transitioned into an all-out hatred and rage against all things vampires. We understand why the vampires elevate Lincoln into a greater threat, but it isn't a reciprocal raising of tension, leaving the film to feel unbalanced. We don't see this development in him at all. What we do see is a cheesy short speech in the town square, which is expected to make us believe that he has changed his focus, but we don't see enough strong evidence of this.
Visually, this film is pretty crisp, though it hides behind screen obscuration to cheat a little in some of its special effects, which aren't always fantastic, though many might not notice these tricks. Many of the action sequences try to borrow from 300-esque choreography and cinematography, and believe it or not, it is rather over the top. In the climax, the film begins to suffer under the weight of how much it demands we suspend our disbelief, particularly in the area of physics. The amount of blood strewn is a little excessive, but not completely over the top.
The thing about this film that makes the least sense is how it fails to blend its silly over-the-top premise with any humour. It takes a more serious horror approach, which makes it feel like a collapse on a significant scale. I realize that taking a humouristic standpoint might have risked a B-movie feel, but there is enough talent in this film both in terms of its actors, producers, and director to have prevented this. It leaves the film feeling very misguided and uncertain of what it was trying to accomplish beyond catching our attention with an intriguing re-writing of history.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a fantasy horror action film that has a lot of entertaining elements, but it feels like it lacked a reliable navigator in determining the course that it would take as a film. What we're left with is a bit of a mess, which isn't that hard to look over at times, but by the film's conclusion, its weaknesses become a little more glaring and unforgivable.
Rating: 2/5 Sour Grapes