REVIEW: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Tells the Real Story Behind the Civil War — Not!
It’s not every day you see a movie and ask yourself, “Why does this thing even exist?” But I’m truly puzzled by the existence of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I get that it’s based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, part of a pop literary genre — launched by Grahame-Smith himself — that takes famous figures, fictional or otherwise, and pits them against vampires and zombies. I get that it’s directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the zany Russian-Kazakh mastermind behind cult apocalyptic favorites Night Watch and Day Watch (2004 and 2006, respectively), not to mention the stupidly entertaining 2008 action thriller Wanted. I even grant you that it’s probably OK to make up wholly imaginary motives for why Abraham Lincoln might have wanted to end slavery, motives having to do not with the preservation of human dignity, equality between all people and all that rot, but because it was kind of a handy sideline to the task of ridding the world of vampires. I know and accept all of this. And still I ask — Why?
I do understand, sort of, the appeal of Benjamin Walker, a young actor who made a splash on the New York stage a few years back in another semi-historical (actually, pretty damn historical) work of fiction, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, he plays first the young and then, with a strip of fun fur attached to his chin, the older Abe Lincoln, radiating a suitable degree of Mount Rushmorelike intensity.
But again I ask — Why? Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter provides an alternative history of the Civil War, one that begins during Abe’s childhood: He realizes an evil neighbor has caused the death of his mother, but he doesn’t know exactly how. Later, he meets a fellow who explains it all: Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) gives Abe the lowdown on vampires who restlessly walk the earth — the man who murdered Abe’s mother was one of these nasty dudes — and then trains him in the art of vampire destruction (it’s a little more complicated than you might imagine), necessitating a training sequence in which Abe learns to twirl an ax like a majorette at Ole Miss.
Mid-movie, Abe retires from the vampire hunting game and turns his attention to politics. By this time, he’s married (to a serene Mary Todd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and before long, the Civil War breaks out and things get really hairy, including his chin. It’s then that Abe learns the bloodsuckers, led by vampires extraordinaire Adam (Rufus Sewell) and Vedoma (leggy model-turned-actress Erin Wasson), play an even more sinister role in American politics than he’d previously thought. Meanwhile, the always-terrific Anthony Mackie wanders through the film listlessly as Abe’s Black Friend.
It doesn’t take long for Bekmambetov to wear out his welcome with a laundry list of generic-looking action sequences: When you’ve seen one vampire get stabbed in the eyeball, you’ve seen ’em all. Actually, the script, written by Grahame-Smith, explains the whole North vs. South, Abolitionist vs. pro-slavery interests, vampire vs. human thing pretty well, considering how inane it is. And the picture is surprisingly handsome-looking, especially for a 3D vehicle. (The DP is Caleb Deschanel.) But none of those attributes are enough to convince me that Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn’t the sort of story that’s best left as an unfilmed concept. The moment Winstead’s Mary Todd Lincoln taps her foot impatiently and calls to her husband, “Hurry, Abraham — we’ll be late for the theater!” can’t come soon enough. At least Grahame-Smith had the good sense to realize he couldn’t make up a better ending.