Film Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunterby Jo W. on Jul, 04 2012
The proposal of presenting Abraham Lincoln as an undercover vampire hunter strikes critics as such an absurd concept that they have somehow expected a campy dark comedy…only to be bitterly disappointed. Then, these critics decide to lash out their dissatisfaction by slaying (pun intended) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with low ratings.
Advice: Don’t view this film expecting to guffaw at a campy blood-soaked parody of President Lincoln’s life. Furthermore, don’t come into the theater expecting the film will have the same tone as the Twilight franchise just because there is “vampire” in the title (take that, sparkly wannabe creatures of the night!). Lastly, be aware that the film is an adaption of a novel of the same title by Seth Grahame-Smith. The source material was approached in a serious manner; Grahame-Smith seamlessly embeds a fictional secret life as a vampire hunter into Abraham Lincoln’s biographical saga. On the surface, Lincoln was a rising political star, and ultimately the 16th president of the United States. What lies beneath is a backstory in which Honest Abe vows to exterminate every vampire in America to bring justice to his mother’s death (the milk sickness that Nancy Hanks Lincoln presumably died of was a mere cover-up for the “truth” – she was murdered by a vampire).
Despite the harsh criticisms this film is garnering, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter delivers as an action-packed fantasy-horror adventure that defies the wimpy, romanticized vampires that have plagued pop culture in approximately the last half-decade. Rather than plopping eye-candy vampires into the film in an attempt to jump the now-dwindling vampire bandwagon (and for the money of parents of squealing teenage girls), the vampires – restored to their classic glory as terrifying demons of the night – elevates the story to a level that convincingly layers vampire hunting with Lincoln’s burgeoning career as a lawyer and politician. There is a line that plays on the classic saying “The pen is mightier than the sword” in which Lincoln (portrayed by talented newcomer Benjamin Walker) states that despite his skill of hunting vampires with his axe, it may be more efficient to eradicate vampires in American society with written words.
The vampires here are more than blood-sucking terrors. They have formed alliances with slave owners in the South in order to gain supplies of blood to satiate their eternal bloodlust. The vampires are not targeting random innocents on the streets; they feed on slaves, courtesy of camaraderie with Confederates. Vampires have traveled to the new world from Europe along the human European settlers in hopes of taking advantage of “the land of the free” as a way to create a nation of vampires, where they can be free to roam and hunt without fear of persecution.
Swearing to avenge his mother’s death, Lincoln trains as a vampire hunter, with his axe as his preferred and mastered weapon (real-life fact: Lincoln helped his father with carpentry in his early years, so he was adept with axe-handling). Like the book, the pseudo-biographical-fantasy film follows Lincoln’s life from his childhood, to his rising career as a lawyer, to his romance and marriage with Mary Todd, and to his presidency, complete with the famous Gettysburg Address, all while covertly hunting vampires. As expected of every book-to-film translations, the film leaves out many details that contributed to the book’s bestseller status. There are also new characters and scenes created specifically for the movie, such as plantation-owning aristocratic vampires who become the film’s main antagonists, a free Negro as Lincoln’s childhood friend, and adrenaline-driven battle scenes with a horse stampede in the first third of the film, followed later on by a climactic train scene in the last third of the film (both scenes hilariously and unrealistically defy the laws of physics). The absence of details from the novel, replaced by those designed for the film, perhaps so as to better take advantage of the film industry’s exhausting fascination with 3D, will most likely disappoint readers who enjoyed the novel. Despite that, the stunning visuals, historical aesthetic details, classic horror movie visual jumps, and a mash-up of facts with fiction factor into an entertaining summer action flick that puts an alternative spin on the Civil War. Audiences should enter the theater with open minds and neither expect a comedy nor a historically accurate portrayal of Lincoln’s life.
Bonus: The beautiful end credits sequence with streams of blood trickling through a vast whiteness across and down the movie screen was a special touch to end the film. The trickles of blood form a particular image, which I won’t give away, but it was cleverly done, and captured the spirit of the film.