Cinema Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Currently on General Release at UK Cinemas.
No doubt many of you will have had your attention drawn to books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as you’ve strolled by a book store window. It seems to be a current literary fad to take an old classic and reinvent it with a deliciously twisted element of modern horror. Other recent bestsellers of a similar nature – from the cleverly named ‘Quirk Classics’ – include Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. Apparently no-one has yet thought of ‘Great Exterminations’ or ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Woods’, but it’s surely just a matter of time.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is from the pen of Seth Grahame-Smith, whose other notable mash-up of classic literature, history and horror fiction is the fabulously titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Word is that the book is pretty good and with the author himself adapting the screenplay for this movie, one could be forgiven for having higher expectations than perhaps one should.
Sadly, the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a huge disappointment (that’s HUGE with block capitals, just in case you’re not getting the message). It opts for style over content; unfortunately the style is a horrible mish-mash of absurd CGI mayhem, dumb dialogue and plotting-by-numbers. It’s almost as if Smith’s technique for preparing the screenplay was to link a set of post-it notes together with bits of string, each one containing an idea for a spectacular set piece. What no-one seems to have noticed is that set pieces are only truly exciting and enjoyable if you build them around a story and characters worth caring for. There’s nothing of that sort here.
Young Abraham Lincoln watches his mother die from an illness which baffles the doctors brought to save her. He keeps to himself the fact that he witnessed a local plantation owner named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) attacking her in the night, apparently feasting on her blood.
Years later, a grown up Abe (Benjamin Walker) decides to take vengeance by killing Barts. He shoots him late one night on the dockside, only to find that he simply gets up uninjured and transforms before his eyes into a demonic monster. Abe is rescued from certain death by the arrival of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a charismatic stranger who seems to know more than he should about the strange goings-on in the neighbourhood.
Sturgess tells Abe that the country is awash with vampires and teaches him how to fight against them. Armed with an axe and ready to get stuck into his new line of work, Abe moves to the town of Springfield, Illinois; where he soon slays his first vampire. It isn’t long before his vampire hunting antics catch the attention of undead master Adam (Rufus Sewell), a millennia-old monster who runs a plantation in the Deep South and has an army of vampires at his beck and call.
Almost nothing about Timur Bekmambetov’s film works. What kills it more than anything is the fact that the plot is handled with a misplaced sense of seriousness. Sometimes a movie cries out for a lightness of touch, a tongue-in-cheek approach if you like, and this one needs it more than most. However, instead of embracing the silliness of everything that’s going on and using it to its advantage the film is played in deadly earnest.
The performances are roundly terrible, but this is hardly surprising given some of the awful dialogue the actors are required to deliver. Walker’s career has hardly begun but after this film it is in danger of being grounded before it takes flight. Visually the whole thing is rather ugly too, with a saturated tone which is presumably meant to evoke times gone by, but only succeeds in offending the eye.
Half a star then for the intriguing title and for presenting a fairly original concept, but in terms of final execution this movie is a train wreck of considerable magnitude. There are a few months to go before we can say for sure which film is the worst of the summer blockbuster season. Rest assured that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn’t just in with a shout, it’s the odds-on favourite.
FMV Rating * ½ stars