Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith
Estimated Budget: $100 million
US Gross: $116.4 million
From the director that brought us Wanted and produced Hardcore Henry, how could we expect anything other than fast-paced, bloody, ludicrous violence? But unfortunately, we soon become accustomed to the ultraviolence and realise that we’re faced with something awful. For the release of Ben-Hur on 9 September, we revisit Timur Bekmambetov’s 2012 alternative history epic, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
The (Alternate) History
Let’s pretend for a second that the film is self-aware enough to be sticking its tongue firmly in its cheek. With this in mind, there’s actually a lot to be applauded, and Vampire Hunter is undoubtedly entertaining. It takes a US president, and re-imagines him as a vampire hunter – what’s not to like? Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the fight for the abolition of slavery, the film does well to seamlessly fit in a vampire subplot. It’s a thankless task, and one that is not lost on us. We never thought we’d see the day that Abraham Lincoln wields a silver axe and kicks some serious ass. It’s not saying much, but Bekmembatov certainly did it best.
We’ve already covered the alternate history aspect, as well as the fact that it’s set firmly in the midst of the American Civil War. Dealing with such heavy and close-to-the-bone subject matter, it would be almost offensive if the film didn’t have certain amount of heart. Setting its loyalties firmly against slavery (obviously), with a great blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance from Anthony Mackie, there’s one thing Vampire Hunter has, and it’s emotion to the surplus. An understated Mary Elizabeth Winstead rounds out a winning cast that oozes emotional maturity (with the exception of Benjamin Walker, but more on him later). Sure, the film will make you snicker – and not always intentionally – but there’s no denying that you feel a few pangs of remorse as some of our central characters are brutally sliced from the screen.
The Set Pieces
There’s no doubting that the set pieces are spectacular. Silly? Yes. Over the top? Almost definitely. But that doesn’t mean we don’t thoroughly enjoy every second of them while they’re happening. Special mention should go to the stampede of horses as Lincoln heroically attempts to destroy the man that murdered his mother. And let’s not forget about the final train scene, where they battle to the bitter end atop a fiery speeding train as the bridge ahead collapses as it bursts into flames. Utterly stunning. You can see where the majority of the $100 million budget went. Because it certainly wasn’t spent on the screenwriters.
There’s nothing obviously wrong with the scripting, unless you count an endless stream of clichés as a problem. There are some beautiful, inspiration monologues but they feel out of place here, and this is where the main issue lies. We’ve heard it all before in presidential addresses. These have just been rephrased, rehashed, and they sound, in all honesty, a little tired. They’re also coming out of the mouths of actors who don’t say them with a lot of conviction, and this is where they fall flat.
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the absolute nuggets that are scattered throughout Vampire Hunter:
“History prefers legends to men”
“A guy only gets that drunk when he wants to kiss a girl or kill a man. So which is it?”
I’m going to go with… neither.
“We are all slaves to something. I, to eternity. You, to your convictions. Others, to the colour of their skin.”
Never heard that definition of vampire before…
These morsels are actually quite poetic, and prime examples of the highly quotable one-liners throughout – you can tell that someone spent a long time crafting them word by word. But the issue is that they’re surrounded by a blunt and inarticulate script, making these infrequent pearls seem out of place.
The Depiction of Vampires
Now, the depiction of vampires is something that not too many films have gotten right. And, in fairness, this is something that’s incredibly subjective. Some films have come pretty damn close – Let The Right One In, The Lost Boys, Interview With the Vampire. And these all certainly have their flaws, be it few and far between.
But the vampires in Abraham Lincoln are overplayed and over-zealous, trying to incorporate far too many facets from far too many influences. Fair enough, in order to push the plot along, many of these features were necessary. But was it necessary to have them basically ‘disapparating’ in a Harry Potter-esque move that, in reality, would have left Lincoln up shit creek without a paddle? And let’s just brush over their decidedly piranha-like appearance. All of this could have been forgiven if it weren’t for the ease with which a rather meek and mild looking Lincoln cuts them down – considering their almost invulnerable appearance and strength, he should certainly have had a bit more difficulty than he does here.
The pacing is uneven to say the least. Attention-grabbing set pieces are broken up by long, monotonous monologues that have no place in a free-for-all action film. Vampire Hunter feels like it should be moving at a million miles a minute – and sometimes it reaches that pace – but for the most part, we’re just left sitting and wishing that there were more vampires being beheaded. At 105 minutes it feels overly long and talky. If only it had been a solid 80 minutes of carnage.
It would be quicker and easier to list the positive things about Walker’s performance in Vampire Hunter. He actually looks a lot like Abraham Lincoln in real life with the special effects and make up.
Oh wait… he looks nothing like him.
Well, he has the physique necessary to be slicing down vampires every two seconds with such ease, right?
No, no he doesn’t.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing right about this particular casting – he’s wooden and dull and he has no chemistry with the rest of the cast. With the exception of In The Heart of the Sea, there’s nothing much of note in Walker’s filmography – Vampire Hunter included. And judging by this performance, you can certainly see why.
Film Rating 2/5
Kane Rating 1/5
The biggest let down of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the feeling that it could have been so wonderful. Falling down on so many levels, Bekmametov gives us enough great moments to make our sense of loss and disappointment feel even greater. Aside some small saving graces, it lacks the script, the cast, and the verve to call this even a sub-par vampire flick. We never thought we’d say it – but bring on Twilight. At least there’s some almost believable romance to earn our investment.