I am disheartened to report, ladies and gentlemen, that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (the film based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel) is a most spurious piece of anti-Vampire-American propaganda that tarnishes their good name and celebrates their horrific and callous mass destruction! The litany of crimes attributed to Vampire-Americans is legion. Would you believe the following?
The reason slavery flourished in the American South? Vampires!
The reason a young Abraham Lincoln got into politics? Vampires!
The main cause of the Civil War? Vampires!
The reason poor Willie Lincoln became ill and died in childhood? Vampires!
The source of Mary Todd Lincoln’s depression and madness? Vampires!
But seriously…to all of those crying foul over this preposterously premised film not containing a single note of humor…well, you obviously missed the joke. I applaud the filmmakers’ absolute conviction in presenting the material dead seriously. Taking a Zombieland approach wouldn’t have worked and would’ve made the film even more painful to sit through.
What are fair game, however, are the film’s obvious flaws such as the clamoring sound design that rendered some dialogue incomprehensible coupled with some of the most hacksawed editing this side of a Michael Bay film where scenes or spoken lines were often cut off mid-thought only to race to another scene before the viewer could even digest what happened. Some of the special effects were especially murky and shoddily done, often filtered through fog or darkness or obnoxiously slowed down or sped up in that nauseating trend that’s been our curse ever since The Matrix.
There’s plenty to enjoy here, too. Caleb Deschanel is one of the best cinematographers in the business and he provides a moodily lit atmosphere. The costumes and make-up are also top-notch. Rasputin-esque director Timur Bekmambetov provides some fun visual flourishes, mad dissolves and Scorsese-ian scene transitions that are really rather clever when they are not being undermined by the editing. He also stages a great train-careening-over-a-burning-bridge climax that makes up for much of the nonsense earlier in the film. The good and the bad elements are worked up into such a maelstrom, there are times when the action on-screen becomes abstractly loony as evidenced in the horse stampede sequence.
In conjunction with the dead serious tone, the cast is sufficiently game. As the title character, Benjamin Walker is somewhat wooden in his line deliveries but he provides a commanding physical presence. His Lincoln is a stoic, socially awkward, but athletically agile hero. Meanwhile, as Mary Todd, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (appealingly cute, and who the kids these days apparently refer to as MEW…awwww…) acts as if she was cast in Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln biopic rather than this schlock and goes for the gusto with an ingenue aplomb. There’s a particularly satisfying denouement involving swift justice delivered by a toy silver sword to the female vampire responsible for young Willie’s death, and a hilariously prescient, “Abraham, we’re going to be late for the theater!” line at the end that had me howling. Winstead doesn’t give a lick about any of the inherent silliness and gives one of the most winning performances I’ve seen in this type of film in a long, long time.
Arbitrarily ridiculous at times, hampered by lousy editing and sound design, but also earnest and endearing in its conviction to hold the tone, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn’t exactly a good movie, but it’s fun, and there are far worse ways to kill a few hours in the summertime. I mean have you seen True Blood this season? Talk about painful! I’ll take Abe over that tripe any day!
Written by David H. Schleicher