“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” sounds like a campy title. Actually, this title says it all. This screen adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s epistolary-style book revolves around the outrageous turn of the American hero and president Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter, a man who snuffs out vampires in many brutal ways. This reinvention of the life of the nation’s legendary icon features him as history’s greatest hunter of the undead.
For those with not very high expectations and those who constantly love seeing monstrous biting, slashing, axing, blood squirting, and pulling a gun’s trigger on screen, it can actually beam high as a campy offering. At times fun and often absurd, this movie capitalizes on the intense audio-visual flair of watching something fierce, visceral, and bloodthirsty.
This mash-up of action, horror, and alternate history clearly has a visual style to spare in the hands of the visionary Timur Bekmambetov, a filmmaker widely known for his motion-picture opuses “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” and the blockbuster hit “Wanted.” As a popcorn flick, this over-the-top piece aptly delivers for those willing to put up with its sheer ridiculousness. However, it lacks the needed bite to become a top-quality feature. At best, it serves as a guilty pleasure for the willing audience.
This genre material primarily relies on the gimmick of showcasing a Founding Father who uses a silver-coated axe to fight creatures of the dark. For this shallow take on the idea of decapitating vampires, it is quite disappointing that such a brilliant helmer whose filmography shines with a number of deep and ingenious works simply yields to a project that utilizes a silly and cold-blooded treatment. This doesn’t remove the fact that the film is a feast on the eyes and ears with its loud, fast, and dandy shots often favoring the 3D format. Yet, it still feels like junk food that has nothing much to offer beyond its satisfying taste and crunch.
Astuteness and subtlety are nearly absent in this movie. How it challenges logic as a shameless exhibition of technical grandeur merely turns out as a slick exercise for a big-budget horror-action project. Even with polished action scenes that have shock and gore as their driving force, the violence seen on screen soon becomes numbing to look at. As the story progresses, its series of labored variations of slaying tactics get rote and repetitive.
A physical resemblance is quite apparent with Benjamin Walker as the straight-faced Lincoln. However, his take on the character is one-dimensional and humorless, which ends up sucking the zest and vitality of his role as The Great Emancipator and the Great Decapitator. This leads to the insufficiency of the irony that can keep both the historical and supernatural aspects of the story inventive, compelling, and thoroughly entertaining.
This revisionist movie’s idea of a Civil War jam-packed with vampires is very promising, but its overly serious tone fails to elevate its preposterously grand storyline’s way of defying the realism about Lincoln’s life. Although it delivers as a thrill-ride material, it reaches the point of becoming overly dreary. It lacks that sense of humor to really hit its storytelling sweet spot. In taking both its potentially funny and radical concept and its amusingly outrageous premise way too seriously, some of its mechanical effects tend to feel like a B-movie schlock.
Given the nature of this tale, it could have been more appealing if it were to go beyond the simple merging of Lincoln’s and the Civil War’s historical outlines using blood, gore, and action-movie clichés. Unfortunately, it only becomes an extensive slog of all-too-familiar elements of the horror, fantasy, and action genres. On the positive side, from his speed-ramping effects to his frenetic fight choreography, Bekmambetov wields his trademark free-form action sequences with some memorable parts — the CGI horse stampede being the most notable. Such scenes best work for those with the right frame of mind for such a mindless piece of entertainment.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” melds fact and fiction using a means that services its premise more than its storytelling. With a lame screenplay, disjointed narrative, and stiff acting, its pulpy slice of grotesque and gore-filled fight scenes turns out far too streamlined and spotty. Instead of focusing on transforming itself into a brilliant cinematic piece, it becomes a machine-like monolith oozing with style but faltering in substance. Nevertheless, this action-packed flick can still work as a form of diversion for those with enough time to spare.