Saturday, September 14, 2013

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) - FilmReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Is director Timur Bekmambetov's blockbuster a fangtastic adventure or just a stake through the heart?

There have been mixed reviews for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" since its theatre release, with critics calling it "uptight and dreary" (Christy Lemire, Associated Press) and unfulfilling. To some extent I can understand these criticisms. However, having sat through a viewing, my opinions are firmly in the positive...

First off, the title says it all, no suspense or sleight of hand, just a fun film exploring what if one of the most famous men in American history had a secret life that focused on the supernatural. So often we are used to the scandal and affairs of politicians, those indiscreet moments that a politician would rather forget. So how intriguing, then, that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, is explored as a vampire hunter, stalking the streets at night assassinating the undead. Based on a novel of the same name by author Seth Grahame-Smith, with a sreenplay by Grahame-Smith and Simon Kinberg, we first encounter a young Abraham living with his parents. Even in these early years he is a strong and determined boy, prepared to stand up for what he believes in. Sadly though, this resolute personality later indirectly leads to the tragic death of his mother - to a vampire. This, ultimately, takes Abraham on a journey that will eventually lead to campaign, war, and the extinction of slavery.

This "mishmash" works well for the most part, its atmospheric scenes and plot perfectly balanced by the direction and acting. Previous attempts at this kind of fantasy horror have always been let down by attempt at humour, so it is a welcome change that Bekmambetov's movie leans more toward the serious, even if the subject matter and title suggest otherwise. Indeed, this could have been a camp, lighthearted affair, with enough one-liners to fill Queen Akasha's tomb ("The Vampire Chronicles" reference). However, when I think of what a mess Stephen Sommers made of the 2004 vampire feature "Van Helsing", I am thankful for small mercies!

Casting is excellent, with Benjamin Walker wonderfully versatile as the Older Abraham Lincoln - actor Lux Haney-Jardine, too, is a treasure as Young Abraham. Also cast is Dominic Cooper as Henry Sturges, Abraham's mentor. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as the beautiful Mary Ann Todd (and later Lincoln's wife) never fails to light up the screen, whether she is dancing, visiting Abraham in jail, or simply confronting vampires.

Much of the film focuses on Abraham's training, his acquiring of newly-found skills to aid him in his fight against vampires (whose identity Henry advises him off via secret mail), and the Civil War which later erupts, tearing the United States apart and forcing families to fight one another, as the Union (federal government of the United States) and Confederate forces engage in bloodshed. It is interesting how, finding a path along the political circle, this future president puts away his silver tools and instead embraces the power of words, learning to be a strategist and diplomat first.

An idealist perhaps, but in this reality vampires still lurk in the shadows, preparing for a day when the world will be theirs to master over. Not only does Abraham and wife Mary suffer tragic loss after the horrifying cruelty of female vampire Vadoma (portrayed by model and actress Erin Wasson), but the undead are also persuaded to assist the Confederate in fighting the North on the battlefield - leading to the quite obvious Union losses on a large scale. This is the moment when you know Abraham must fight using his knowledge of the supernatural once more - words are no longer sufficient to protect the lives of his men. It also means that the president must, once more, take to battle in person...

This is where the action explodes, with a spectacularly-directed sequence of events on board a transport train delivering silver weapons to Union soldiers facing incredible slaughter at the hands of vampires. It is clear that the success of Abraham's campaign rests on the safe arrival of these new weapons. I applaud the movie's focus on slavery and exploitation, highlighting the Underground Railroad, and even its attempts at not shying away from showing the horror that war brings upon its victims. I did, however, feel a little uncomfortable at moments during the graphic scenes of conflict - though this film is a mix of fact and fiction, I couldn't help but feel sadness for those whose lives had truly been lost in this terrible civil war. It was just a momentary discomfort, but one I found difficult to observe...

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" might not be a classic, but it does have classic moments. I would have to say that, after one hour and forty-five minutes of axe-wielding, love, and warfare, there was plenty to satisfy this vampire fan. Negative reviews should certainly be taken with a pinch of salt. Decide for yourself.

Purchase Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter from the Store:
DVD Blu-ray - Running time: 105 minutes