Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
|July 12, 2012||Posted by Sep Gohardani under entertainment, reviews|
Film Information: Released June 20th 2012; Certificate 15
Cast: Benjamin Walker; Mary Elizabeth Winstead; Dominic Cooper; Anthony Mackie; Jimi Simpson; Rufus Sewell; Marton Csokas; Joseph Mawle; Robin McLeavy
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenwriter: Seth Grahame-Smith
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Abraham Lincoln (Walker) is the son of Thomas (Mawle) and Nancy (McLeavy) Lincoln. Thomas is a plantation worker, whose boss is the harsh and unforgiving Jack Barts (Csokas). One day in 1818 when Abraham is out working with his father, he sees a young black slave being whipped and interferes, which has consequences for Thomas, who is fired from the plantation. As if things couldn’t get worse, Abraham then witnesses Barts break in to his home and attack Nancy, who subsequently falls grievously ill and dies shortly after. His father confirms his fears by saying that it was indeed Barts that caused her death but forces him to promise not to get in harm’s way. Nine years later, with his father dead, Abraham decides to take revenge on Barts. Something sinister is afoot however, and Abraham’s attempts to kill Barts are unsuccessful for a very simple reason: he’s a vampire. With the help of self-proclaimed “vampire hunter” Henry Sturgess (Cooper), Abraham learns disturbing things about the Southern states of America, and vows to prevent this sinister force from engulfing the entire country – whatever it takes. Can he too become a vampire hunter and take both his revenge and the lives of all the vampires?
Some things don’t mix: marmite and salmon; cereal and caviar; M Night Shyamalan and a decent excuse for a screenplay. It either doesn’t make any sense for these things to be conjoined or, in the third case, it is a physical impossibility. Me and the other three people in the needlessly oversized screen we were occupying wondered to ourselves whether Abraham Lincoln and the concept of vampire hunter is one of these things, or whether it is actually a stunning bit of ingenuity from the new literary starlet of our age, Seth Grahame-Smith. Indeed, the incredibly successful creator of the unceasingly popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has come up with another ground-breaking and brilliantly presented idea here, carefully nuanced and… oh, what am I saying? It’s claptrap.
Mr Grahame-Smith must smoke various hallucinatory drugs to consider these things adequate plot transformations, because they’re about as apt as David Cameron would be as the guest speaker of a pasty convention. In the case of this film, you walk in expecting some sort of comedy. What you get is a film in limbo between seriousness and joking, achieving the best parts of neither and largely the worst of both. Its strengths lie in acting performances, particularly from Benjamin Walker (Flags of Our Fathers), whose fledgling film acting career is getting off to a good start, even if the film renders his efforts pointless in this instance. In other areas, however, the film fails to create suspense or thrill despite its evident attempts, and but for some well choreographed action scenes and the odd mildly scary moment the fact it is devoid of these things just leaves us remembering the absurdity of the entire concept. Sure, a metamorphosis of the horror and political drama genres can be seen as ingenious, but it’s tepid and out of place, and never really sure what it’s doing.
Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted; Night Watch) knows how to produce a thrill, as Wanted shows, and a collaboration with Tim Burton as producer, a specialist at creating a dark and creepy atmosphere, made it seem possible for this film to exceed its rather low expectations. Sadly, while Burton’s influence can be seen in the graphical detail, Bekmambetov seems to have fallen asleep himself. The themes are so muddled and the direction so haphazard that it feels as though we’re watching snippets of other films that someone has farcically melded together. This is Bekmambetov’s most disappointing production to date, and he should probably say no to this kind of project in the future and stick to the entertaining, arguably substanceless films he specialises in.
Grahame-Smith’s screenplay, as previously mentioned, is pretty damn rubbish. There will come a time when he realises that lifting famous figures or famous bits of literature and declaring a new piece of work when a completely unrelated theme is somewhat pointlessly tacked on to the end with the tacking skill of a two-year-old child is not the way to approach books and scripts. When this day comes, no doubt a unicorn will appear at his door and personally thank him for having an epiphany that should have been head-bangingly obvious in the first place. Nonetheless, his attempts here resulted in me laughing fairly regularly at the characters’ attempts at creating drama. There’s one particularly drama-less scene on a train that wasn’t helped by the stupidly clichéd attempts at dialogue, which we can attribute to Grahame-Smith: stuff that’s been regurgitated somewhat unhealthily from other, superior vampire thrillers.
While cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is practically the saving grace of the film, along with Walker’s efforts, he seems singularly obsessed with slow motion. I’m genuinely surprised there isn’t a slow-mo depiction of old Abe buttering up his toast put to Henry Jackman’s competent score for added effect. In what could be seen as a homage to The Matrix, or just another failed attempt at adding to the tension, the slowed-down fight scenes don’t do this at all, and instead just add to the farce. Deschanel can be commended for some wonderfully well engineered scenes, however, which are great to watch even if the substance really is lacking.
This film has not yet made back its budget, and this is perfectly understandable since to be honest it is disappointing and never really going to do well by word of mouth. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger) also give this a good go and act their parts to the best of their ability, but there simply isn’t enough to work with that achieves the film’s aim – though no one is really sure what that is, so maybe it was supposed to be just this bad. Would I like George Washington: Puppet Murderer or Winston Churchill: Bounty Hunter to rise out of the murky waters of this newfangled genre? Most definitely not.