Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
At least he didn’t sparkle
Then again, nothing did.
Hollywood’s bloodthirsty infatuation with vampires is a trend that shows no sign retiring back to its coffin any time soon. If portrayed successfully enough, vampires can serve as a fascinating metaphor for humankind’s weakness to temptation, can enamor audiences with their seductive charm and superhuman abilities, can be presented as terrifying villains, or any combination of the above. Vampires should never fail to captivate audiences, if done correctly. What’s mystifying about this trend, then, is Hollywood’s apparent inability to create a vampire movie worth seeing. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter follows the path of recent poorly reviewed vampire movies; much like the bloodsuckers they so eagerly endorse, it is dull and lifeless.
The movie is based off the 2010 novel of the same name written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the screenplay), and I use ‘based’ in very loose terms. As a child, honest Abe (Benjamin Walker) spent most of his time on the plantation where his parents worked. He interferes when plantation owner Jack Barts (Martin Csokas) unjustly whips his enslaved friend Will (Anthony Mackie), causing his father to quit work on the plantation despite being unable to pay Barts the money he owes. In the dead of night, Barts, a thirsty vampire, sneaks into the Lincoln cabin and bites Abe’s mother (Robin McLeavy) while Abe secretly watches through the floorboards. Beyond any doctor’s aid, his clearly agonized mother dies, and Abe dedicates the rest of his life to destroying vampires to avenge her.
When he grows older, Lincoln teams up with fellow vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who acts as his mentor in the art of vampire slaying. After years of training, Henry sends Abe to Springfield, Illinois, which was apparently a vampire hotspot back in the 1800s. Lincoln hunts vampires in a spectacle of blood and booby traps while Henry sends word of their whereabouts.
From this point on, the movie’s plot becomes a dishonesty to honest Abe, sharing only vague similarities to the book, an inexplicable misstep on Grahame-Smith’s part. Instructed to avoid forming close bonds with anyone during his hunting career, Abe instantaneously befriends innkeeper Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and pursues a relationship with doughy-eyed damsel Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after his very second encounter with her in a thudding, uninspired romance. The development of their relationship was borne with cliché stepping stones, most notable when Abe attempts to reveal that he is a vampire hunter, only to have her cutely play along with his ‘joke’. The film version of Mary Todd is a combined portrayal of both Lincoln’s romances in the book, and unfortunately only uses the uninteresting qualities from both.
The reappearance of Will inspires Abe to campaign against slavery, distracting from his mission. The vampires of the south are using slaves as food, eating from a plantation owned by vampire leader Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister Vadoma (Erin Wasson). Abe continues to support slave abolishment as his political career escalates to presidency. Lincoln finds that his careers as President and vampire hunter are about to collide as the invincible vampire army Adam and Vadoma have raised gets involved with the Civil War.
The film was directed and co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov along with Tim Burton, who seems to be the greatest advocate against vampire pop culture after the release of this movie paired with his joyless Dark Shadows just a few months ago. What could have been a fun premise was taken too seriously to enjoy, which I expect was Burton’s doing after witnessing the same problem in his other recent vampire movie.
What I was most excited for about this movie was seeing the concept of one of our most famous presidents decapitating vampires in the Civil War and believing it. I wanted to see vampires run amok in the White House and on famous battlegrounds, and I wanted to see Lincoln, donned in his iconic top hat and beard, to rush out and crush some vampire skulls with his handy axe. The film showcased very little of what could have been a fascinating and grisly new angle on one of the most famous events in American history. Walker didn’t even appear in Lincoln’s signature top hat until the very final scene of the film, to which I call blasphemy.
The movie did have its moments, but then again, most movies do. A standout scene, probably the only one worth mentioning, happened when Abe returned to the plantation of his childhood to seek revenge on Bartz. The two duked it out amid a seemingly endless stampede of horses in the dwindling sunlight and a barrage of vicious CGI. This was the sole point in the movie I felt any sort of emotional impact and was completely interested in what was happening on screen. Otherwise, there’s not much cinematic triumph this movie has to offer.
The biggest misstep the crew committed was striving far away from the book’s already solid story. The film noticeably excludes the book’s iconic quote, “Some people are just too interesting to die.” It was probably Grahame-Smith’s smartest move in adapting his book to a script, because the movie was murdered at the box office, presumably due to lack of interest. The movie has a lot of blood sucking, but completely fails to suck a lasting reaction out of its audience. Unfortunately, it just sucks.