What was once an amusing, horror-history mashup novel has become a film that is as dreadfully lifeless as the very creatures at its center. Although “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” starts out promising, it rapidly becomes a tiresome venture that lacks focus and a commanding lead performance.
Based on the 2010 book of the same name, “Vampire Hunter” follows Abraham Lincoln, a young man who is haunted by his mother’s murder at the hands of a vampire. He promises to avenge her by hunting the supernatural beings, and fights for the equal rights of men as president of the United States.
The story’s key conflict is the battle against the Southern vampires who eat their slaves and intend to take control of the entire nation. Some people may consider it an offensive plotline to begin with, but it was at least thoroughly developed and explained throughout the novel. In the film, the conflict is greatly minimized and seemingly comes out of left field. One moment a small group of vampires kill their slaves, the next they are in an all-out Civil War?
Problematic pacing and a flat second half are the film’s major problems. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith seems so focused on getting from point A to point B that he never pauses to let the audience absorb what is going on. If you blink, you might miss that brief moment where Lincoln actually becomes a politician, and by the time the Civil War comes around, you may just clamoring for it all to be over.
One might have thought having the novel’s author write the film would ensure a faithful adaption that keeps the story largely in tact. Given that it is Grahame-Smith’s first go-around as screenwriter, though, it is painfully clear the movie could have fared much better in a more experienced writer’s hands.
Another mistake was choosing Benjamin Walker, a veteran theater actor with few film credits, as Abraham Lincoln. While many Broadway actors are too expressive for film, Walker is far too rigid and dull. He lulls the audience to sleep with his flat narrations and often falls to the wayside in the presence of his superior supporting actors. Abe’s vampire nemesis Adam (played by Rufus Sewell) is the film’s strongest asset although the character is regrettably underdeveloped.
The action sequences are the chief reason to see “Vampire Hunter,” but fans of director Timur Bekmambetov’s inventive and visually arresting work on 2008’s “Wanted” will be gravely disappointed. The 3D effects consist of guns and axes being flung at the audience, but are not used to enhance the overall look of the film itself. The camera cuts were particularly nauseating, with constant switches from slow motion to sped-up action that lost its novelty very early on.
The CGI is also lackluster, considering the $70 million budget. A number of sequences—such as the vampire chase amidst a horse stampede and the film’s climatic battle on top of a train—should have been thrilling but instead looked more like muddled, video game animations you would expect from “Grand Theft Auto.”
Given the story itself, “Vampire Hunter” is sure to be a tough sell at the box office. Advertising has not been particularly strong and early tracking suggests that the film has little appeal outside of men ages 25 and younger.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” could have been another offbeat success for 20th Century Fox following this month’s “Prometheus,” but is more in the vein of past summer duds like “Cowboys and Aliens” or “Jonah Hex.”
During the film’s climax, a vampire tells Abe that he will “destroy the myth of Abraham Lincoln.” Please do. The true story of Honest Abe is far more fascinating.