For as long as I can remember, every time I have gone to the movies and the trailer for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” played, the audiences reacted in exactly the same way. They sat through the trailer, usually in silence, taking in the scope of what they were seeing, and then once the film’s title appeared, they began to laugh. Sometimes it was a reserved chuckle, sometimes it was more, but every time the absurd title appeared, it got a reaction from the audience.
The problem was laughter wasn’t the reaction intended by screenwriter Seth Grahme-Smith. And after seeing the film in its entirety, I think that is its biggest problem. The film is based off of Smith’s novel of the same name and stars Benjamin Walker as the 16th president of the United States. The title is pretty self-explanatory, but the film centers on the “secret life” of one of our nation’s most famous presidents. When he sees his mother killed by a vampire in front of his eyes, Lincoln swears to avenge her. As he begins his journey, he meets Henry Sturgess (played by Dominic Cooper), who trains him to slay the creatures of the night. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, as the film portrays it to be, Lincoln dives head first into politics and is elected president of the United States. However, this does not stop Lincoln from doing what he does best: slaying bloodsuckers. In fact, it gives him an even bigger reason to do so, as in the film the Civil War is being fought by the Confederate union of Vampires. Rounding out the cast are Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Anthony Mackie as Lincoln’s childhood friend Will Johnson.
Walker is decent as Honest Abe, but not great. He is at his best when he is swinging his axe and decapitating everything in his path, but is otherwise fairly mellow and understated. Cooper seems strikingly out of place, conveniently appearing when Abe needs his help and never wiping the overly dramatic and serious smile off of his face. Winstead is fantastic in her reserved yet important supporting role, and Mackie is severely underused. He has his moment in the film’s rushed climax, but is never really given a moment to shine. Over all, the acting is fairly solid.
Surprisingly, the film’s action is intense and gripping. Director Timur Bekmambetov (director of 2008’s “Wanted”) does what he does best: slow down and speed up scenes in just the right places to emphasize what he chooses. On screen, it plays out like a sequence from a gory video game, with overly exaggerated blood splattering everywhere. Is it over the top? A little bit. But what else would you expect from a film with the title “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”?
Ultimately, the film shoots itself in the foot by taking itself far too seriously. With a title like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” there ultimately has to be a sense of slight playfulness and humor. But the film lacks both of those things. Although I have not finished the novel, I am far enough into it that I know it is meant to be taken seriously, but there is a little humor in it. The film fails to realize this and even with all of the potential it has for just a few quick, witty one liners, it fails to capitalize on them. Several times during the movie, it took itself so seriously that I had to laugh at it, and not for good reason. The best example of this I can think of is in one of the film’s action set pieces in which Lincoln duels a vampire in a stampede of blatantly obvious CGI horses. The two leap from horse to horse and the vampire even throws a horse at Lincoln like he’s Roy Halladay throwing a fastball. It’s so ludicrous, one has to laugh.
At the end of the day though, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is probably better than a lot of upcoming releases and it’s certainly enjoyable in the moment.