Wait a second- so Abraham Lincoln really did murder hundreds of blood sucking vampires and no one bothered to put this in the history books? Seems to me this is the sort of thing that you don’t just forget to make a record of- then again there are kids nowadays that didn’t realize the Titanic was real and not just a James Cameron movie. I think I’ve exhausted enough sarcasm for now, but honestly, after reading reactions and judging from conversations as I left ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER I was dumbfounded by the amount of people exclaiming, “This doesn’t make sense,” or, “That was so unrealistic.” From here on out everyone else that uses that as a complaint for this movie, consider yourselves virtually slapped by me.
For those still with me here, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, who is also responsible for the script. The novel is a fictional account of one of our nation’s finest president’s battle with the supernatural that he kept secret from the public even after his death. The film however, does feature voice-over work of journal entries from the book, but weaves what I would call a much different story, but keeps many of the historical checkpoints.
There are any number of problems with the big screen adaptation of Smith’s novel- the biggest one I have is with Smith’s own interpretation of the script. The story here has some really cool moments of action and some decent twists that I don’t recall being in the book, but the expansion of dialogue proved to be considerably worse than I imagined. Minus a few enjoyable monologues there are several other smaller sequences that feature some pretty cringe inducing moments of dialogue. I would stand the script up with another film Smith is responsible for this year, DARK SHADOWS. Both are equally as bad, both have the material elevated only because of the actors except one isn’t nearly as fun as the other. Where I found DARK SHADOWS boring and inconsistent, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is at least fun and inconsistent.
Visually the film has more to offer than just about anything else outside of the violence- even if it screams wannabe Tim Burton. There are two central action set pieces that are worth seeing the film for, despite some of the special effects being less than spectacular. One being a horse stampede that as far as I can tell comes out of nowhere and seems to have made it in just because it sounded cool. The second is the train battle near the end after the bridge is set on fire and starts collapsing. The CGI isn’t awe inspiring, but it’s a lot of fun to watch when it’s highlighting the tremendous strength and speed of the vampires. The battles themselves are fun to watch even though I would have enjoyed seeing a few more detailed hunting sequences in Exchange for some of the tacked on plot developments. The vampires are concealed in quick cuts when they are in attack mode which hides the lackluster CGI used on them for the most part, but the design is actually quite good- though vaguely reminiscent of Baraka from the Mortal Kombat video games.
The actors are serviceable at best- I wouldn’t dare say anyone puts in a phenomenal performance. Benjamin Walker is quite good as Lincoln through most of the film in spite of some of the dialogue he’s given- one particularly embarrassing scene is on a picnic with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and he tells her he hunts vampires, which she obviously laughs about, almost the same way the audience I was in was laughing at the way the dialogue was written. The film seems to have been thrown together so quickly and the time gaps are never explained and the characters feel mostly hollow because of it. Dominic Copper as Abe’s vampire confidant Henry comes off worse than most from the book as his motivations for helping Abe are missing almost entirely, or at least not nearly explained enough to make anyone care.
Smith’s writing is ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER’s Achilles Heel- the novel itself not exactly being the most amazing piece of literature in existence. With this though he continues to put forth inconsistent vampire lore, plot points that come out of nowhere and half baked character motivations. The novel put forward a much more realized sense for why Lincoln does what he does, more detailed versions of the way he hunts the vampires and much more interesting conflicts. In the film Smith has neutered his own source material leaving out several conversations and hunting sequences that I was looking forward to seeing on screen. The other huge knock on the script is almost every five minutes someone was delivering a line that you can tell Smith was hoping would be one people would find deep and quotable, but instead hit my ears with a quality less than that of many porn parodies made from summer blockbusters.
Truthfully, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is quite the mess when you look at it after all is said and done. However, it’s a mess that at least hooked me in with some of its visuals and a small selection of decent monologues. As bad as the script is, there is something entertainingly bad about it even if in the end I refuse to get excited about any of Seth Grahame-Smith’s future projects. Director Timur Bekmambetov knows how to at least make a film visually interesting even if the visuals are of a low rent variety and there’s not much to take out of the film’s storytelling. Luckily when the axe is flying the dialogue ceases to ruin the fantasy and in the end for me there’s just no denying how fun and enjoyable it is to see someone portraying Honest Abe hacking his way through hordes of vampires.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)