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Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov

Premise: Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, President Abraham Lincoln is reimagined as a vampire slayer and the Civil War as a conflict in which vampires conspire to overtake the Union.

What Works: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter earns some distinction for pulling off what ought to be a joke and managing to make a coherent film out of it. The picture is really a superhero adventure and thinking of it in that way this film is much like Watchmen in that it reimagines history and grafts the superhero myth onto it as a way of commenting upon both.

What Doesn’t: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a very flawed film that never comes together. The comparison to Watchmen is apt because it suffers from many of the same flaws as that film. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has a premise that could be quite silly and the filmmakers manage to present it in a way that is credible within the conceit of a superhero film but they fall short of fulfilling the promise of that premise. Just as Watchmen linked American imperialism with the authoritarian nature of superhero stories, Seth Grahame-Smith’s story links vampirism and the institution of slavery. But just like Watchman, the filmmakers don’t seem to understand their own metaphor and never realize its potential. This film features the sixteenth president of the United States hacking the undead to death with an ax and unfortunately the film is no deeper than that. This is a shame since the metaphor that the writer has come up with is a compelling one but the filmmakers abandon it and give themselves over to the intended rollercoaster thrills of contemporary, post-Matrix action filmmaking. Despite the filmmaker’s efforts to give the audience their money’s worth, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is underwhelming, in part because much it is so generic. Director Timur Bekmambetov’s visual style is indistinguishable from similar directors like Zack Snyder, Michael Bay, and Jonathan Liebesman. The film’s action scenes include frantic editing, computer enhanced leaps and jumps, overuse of slow motion, and a bile-tinted color scheme that has been the hallmark of action and horror cinema for the past decade. For all the efforts to make Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a rollercoaster ride the picture is uninvolving and emotionally flat. Some of this is due to the uninspired design of the film but it is also the fault of bad screenwriting. The film begins as an origin story, with Lincoln learning the craft of vampire hunting, and he later gives up his ax to fight vampires through politics. That transition ought to be the most interesting part of the story and the whole justification for making the film but the movie skips over it and dives right into the middle of Lincoln’s presidency. This robs the movie of its reason to exist and reveals the fatal flaw of the picture: there is no reason why the main character has to be Abraham Lincoln. His story is no different from vampire slayers in other (and better) vampire movies and in many ways the film is far below the standard set by vampire pictures like John Carpenter’s Vampires or Stephen Norrigton’s Blade.

Bottom Line: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter might have been more successful as a miniseries than as a feature film. There is nothing about this story that is distinguished from other vampire movies and the picture fails to live up to the fun that its title suggests.

Episode: #394 (July 1, 2012)