STARRING: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell,
Dominic Cooper, Alan Tudyk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
2012, 101 Minutes, Directed by:
You either get it or you don’t . . .
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire
Hunter is an insanely absurd fun mash up of horror and history that manages
to be simultaneously brilliant and ridiculous. Turning our 16th president into
the 19th century version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may not seem like a
great idea for a movie, but if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief to the
point where it’s gagging and gasping for air, you won’t be bored.
The premise of Seth Grahame-Smith’s
screenplay (based on his novel) is that Abe Lincoln’s mother died after being
attacked by a vampire and thus he devoted the rest of his life to seeking
revenge against not only the perpetrator but all of their kind. The story mixes
some actual facts from Lincoln’s life with much fantasy and horror creating a
movie unlike anything you’ve seen. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch,
Wanted), it plays like a cross between The Matrix and
19th century photos by Matthew Brady.
The filmmakers realized that if
the movie is to work at all, it was important to play the material absolutely
straight. There are no winks or asides to the audience. When Lincoln (Benjamin
Walker) dispatches the fanged undead with a silver bladed axe he’s deadly
earnest. The reason he uses an axe is that he had a mishap attempting to take
out a vampire with a gun. If you’re already rolling your eyes at such antics
then perhaps you should go see something more realistic, like
The Avengers. This is a movie that has Lincoln
fighting vampires one moment and debating slavery with Stephen Douglas (Alan
Tudyk) the next. Mixed in with all this is a vividly reimagined 19th century
America combining sets and CGI to good effect.
"One of the most bizarre depictions of the Civil War on film!"
This falls within the genre of
“alternate history” that has a strong literary tradition but only rarely appears
on screen. In the movie, vampires settled in the South and slaves provided not
only labor but blood. Thus when Lincoln becomes president and the Civil War
erupts, the bloodsuckers commit their forces to Jefferson Davis and the
Confederacy, imagining they will end up running the show. This leads to one of
the most bizarre depictions of the Civil War on film, as the Battle of
Gettysburg rages with vampires wearing the Gray. Lincoln comes up with a way to
counterattack, leading to the big action sequence that dominates the last part
of the film. (If vampires in the South seem odd, think about it: doesn’t that
explain Newt Gingrich?)
Walker, primarily a stage
actor, brings off Lincoln’s earnestness and sadness, mixing the vampire killing
with elements of the real man. Other characterizations may be less grounded in
reality, although Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a nice job as Mary Todd Lincoln.
The cast includes Dominic Cooper as Lincoln’s mentor in vampire hunting, and
Rufus Sewell as “Adam,” supposedly the first vampire.
Viewers looking for an unusual
horror story, or who know enough history to be able to laugh at the absurdity of
the proceedings, should have fun with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Those who insist on screaming at the screening that it didn’t happen that way
should probably give this a pass. The humorless get no sympathy, but let’s take
a moment to pity the high school American history teachers who are going to see
“facts” from this movie pop up in student papers and exams for years to come . .