“Honest” Abe Lincoln. Visionary. Emancipator. Abolitionist. Theatre-lover and possessor of the World’s Best Facial Hair, 1863 (probably). And, apparently, killer of the dead.
Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an unapologetic fusion of historical drama and fantasy horror, spanning Lincoln’s (Benjamin Walker) life from boyhood to Presidency.
The narrative takes the form of entries made in a secret journal, in which a young Lincoln records witnessing his mother’s death at the hands of a vampiric plantation owner. Vengeance is sworn, and with the guidance of fellow hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), Lincoln embarks on a life-long quest to seek out and destroy those vampires lurking amongst the human herd and the hold they have on mortal society.
As the years pass, we see Lincoln’s gravitation towards politics (fuelled by the belief that he could make a greater difference in the war for mankind as a leader of men than as an assassin), his election, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the outbreak of the American Civil War.
Importantly, we’re also shown how these changes impact upon the vampires; their interests lie in maintaining the status quo of lawful slavery – with abundant slaves to feed on without fear of reprisal and the temporal power that immortality and the use of slave labour bring, the pre-abolition political climate is ideal for them. These conflicts of interest, both human and inhuman, set the film up for a suitably explosive showdown between Lincoln and Adam (Rufus Sewell), chief antagonist and alleged “father” of the North American vampires.
The vampires are suitably monstrous – fast, strong, savage, capable of invisibility, and owing more of their design cues to director Bekmambetov’s previous vampire flicks, Night Watch and Day Watch than the effete hedonists of Interview With The Vampire. As faceless, scheming antagonists designed to push our hero to his limits, they work. They could also be viewed as a metaphor for the inhumanity of those that advocate slavery, but such worthy concepts lose their impact somewhat in a film where comic-book violence and in-your-face action are dialled up to maximum. It’s perhaps better to just accept the politically and racially-charged backstory as a convenient, evocative backdrop upon which a story about a vampire hunter has been hung, than to try to consider it as anything deeper or more thought-provoking.
Walker’s portrayal is at its best in Lincoln’s later years, complete with beard, stovepipe hat and paced, resonant drawl, while Cooper’s wry, world-weary humour and Sewell’s malignant contempt for humanity bring some depth to what could have been flat mentor and antagonist roles. The combat scenes are fast and furious, with plenty of blood, and while the director’s slow motion camerawork and wire-fu stylings seem a little incongruous at times, they’re still enjoyable in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.
It’s by no means a great film – the script is clunky in places, and the frequent, frenzied, over-the-top action causes the calmer moments to seem slow and dull in comparison, but nor is it a bad film if viewed with the right mind-set; if you ever wanted to see a vampire throw a horse at a would-be President, or see a man chop down a tree with one blow, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will tick those boxes and more besides. Bring popcorn and an open mind, but be prepared to leave rational thought at the door.