“History prefers legends to men”.
With 2013 being the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, it is hardly surprising that there has been an influx of filmic depictions of the iconic President’s life. While other releases, such as Spielberg’s Oscar-tipped Lincoln, have been period drama biographicals, there was also an unconventional addition – Timur Bekmambetov’s adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s biography/fantasy mash-up novel which, as the title suggests, sees the cultural icon depicted as a vampire hunter.
The film, like the novel, is set within a parallel existence and follows Abraham Lincoln from his youth as a vampire hunter to his senior, political years. The film begins with a young Abe witnessing his mother die of an undiagnosed disease, but soon discovers that she was killed by a vampire. He unites with an experienced hunter, Henry Sturges, to take vengeance against the vampire leaders, based in the Confederate South, that had his mother killed and continue to put the United States in jeopardy.
The most significant problem throughout the film is evident from the moment it begins, rather than embracing the absurdity of its central concept, Bekmambetov takes his film too seriously. In doing so he pays too much attention towards marrying the fanciful with the factual, and his resulting film is neither interesting enough to become a worthy retelling of Abraham Lincoln’s life nor exciting enough to be an entertaining piece of action cinema.
Bekmambetov brings the comic-style action from his previous projects, which includes the poorly executed adaptation of the graphical novel series Wanted, but the resulting set pieces are over-elaborate. Repetitive slow-mo beheadings and fourth wall breaking 3D antics (which is particularly off-putting for 2D viewers) are excessive, lazy and nauseating attempts at exciting spectacle. Strangely, the CGI is the biggest design failing. The vampires simply aren’t monstrous enough. It’s bewildering that a piece of contemporary cinema with such a plentiful budget can produce something so visually unfulfilling.
Without high-octane action to provide even a little low brow entertainment, all of the pressure is put onto the wafer thin narrative. Typically of this tiresome project, Grahame-Smith is lazy in translating his novel to the screen and his resulting narrative is little more than a series of hurried sequences that are constantly interrupted by both increasingly wearing flashbacks and monotonous voice over.
It would be naive to condemn the actors for their disappointing performances, as they do their best working from this weak, formulaic narrative. Abraham Lincoln was well known for his ability as a public speaker, but his characterisation and dialogue is written so cheaply that, aside from the top hat, Benjamin Walker fails to find any connection to the 16th and most celebrated President and could in fact be playing any young American slaying these vampires.
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is a confusion of ideas that would’ve been best to recognise itself as a farfetched parody or a high-concept and well-funded “B-movie”. By taking itself far too seriously it serves not to entertain, and instead only belittles this significant period of American history.