'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is an Ambivalent Genre Mash-up
Published: Thursday, June 21, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 18:07
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
The mainstream appeal of vampires is primarily of a carnal nature (e.g. the Twilight saga’s the Cullens, “True Blood,” Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in “Interview with a Vampire,” etc.). “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” finally, exploits a different kind of pathos from its audience.
You won’t be expected to sympathize with any of these vampires (okay, maybe one), but, really, the whole undead side of the film acts surprisingly mortal and, as you’ll see, relies heavily on mortal puppets to get what they want. Alternatively, America’s 16th president is transformed into a silver-tipped axe-wielding superhuman in a top hat.
The film is based on the fictional book of the same title by Seth Grahame-Smith published two years ago. And, following a Wikipedia briefing, this movie sounds considerably simpler than the book (Edgar Allan Poe and Europe’s vampire issues are left to the leaves). It goes like this: A young Abraham Lincoln witnesses a vampire, who is also a slave owner, kill his mother. Many years later, and after a failed attempt to kill his mother’s murderer, Lincoln is taken in by the vampire hunter Henry Sturges, who uses Lincoln to pick off vampires in Springfield, Illinois.
The vengeful Lincoln is told that if he wants vindication, he must commit wholly to hunting vampires. He becomes a reclusive law-studying shop clerk by day and slayer at night. And just as he’s peaking as a hunter, a lovely and plain Mary Todd enters his life and doesn’t really Yoko Ono his mission as much as Sturges and Lincoln feared she would.
Problems with this plot are obvious. The film proposes the idea that Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter whose ideals as an Abolitionist stem from a desire to suppress the vampire slave owners who are purchasing slaves for sustenance. The movie won’t crack any grudge this premise stirs in an audience member.
However, we’d like to point out the following non-spoiler reason to let your guard down: It’s a little insensitive and utterly ridiculous to propose that Lincoln cared more about vampires than actual slavery. Therefore, it’s worth noting the three-minute gap between a young Abe’s failed intervention in an African-American friend’s beating (who is whipped for protesting the sale of a family member) before he even knows a thing about vampires and their involvement in the slave trade. It isn’t until his mother’s killed by a vampire that a whole new sense of evil and vengeance overcomes our hero, but Lincoln has always been an Abolitionist at heart. Therefore, the vampire hunting is just a way to add sci-fi flair to an already ambitious future president.
Once you’re over that, “Abraham” is a fun tale with a hunky, green (and painfully stoic yet somehow charming and believable) Benjamin Walker beneath the top hat. It may come as a relief to find the slavery metaphor (and reality) to be handled with enough subtlety to not distract from the alternate historical reality. Although, you know, Harriet Tubman gets dragged into the movie’s madness. Maybe not the most tasteful choice to illustrate her significance, but you’ll get over it.
The film keeps its ideologies simple by repeating the same maxims like a mantra: “have a contingency plan,” “we’re all slaves to something,” and “until every man is free, we’re all slaves.”
The problem with this story is that Abraham Lincoln never evolves from being driven by revenge – first for his mother then his son and his country. I kind of wish he had more dimension – a sentiment echoed by Mary Todd after their son’s death.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is an aesthetically aware film that balanced an intriguing and fantastical plot with tight pacing – there’s a half-hearted romance, some really fantastic CGI-enhanced action scenes (one involving a wild horse stampede was amazing in 3D, as was the masterfully inserted dust and embers that floated out of the screen in random scenes) and an entertaining twist on history – but with suspended beliefs it moves at a consistently climbing pace, leading to the kind of post-closure ending that’s clearly a rip-off of “Interview with a Vampire.” Overall, it’s a genre mash-up whose tonal imbalance will make or break your reaction.