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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Review

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

RUSSIAN director Timur Bekmambetov may have cut his teeth on the stylish vampire actioner Night Watch a few years back but his return to blood-sucking territory lacks the same bite.

Adapted from his own novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is nowhere near as fun as it should have been, caught somewhere between Bekmambetov’s OTT visual style and Grahame-Smith’s desire to keep it grounded in ‘reality’.

It’s an odd, ultimately unsuccessful mix that’s further impeded by episodic plotting, anaemic supporting characters and the sneaking suspicion that even Bekmambetov is keen merely to repeat some of the earlier tricks of his trade rather than going for broke with anything new.

The plot re-imagines American history to have one of its most revered political figures made over as a fearless, axe-wielding vampire slayer, whose rise to prominence was informed solely by his hatred for the un-dead.

Hence, all of the key moments in Lincoln’s life – from the death of his mother while he was still a child through to the death of his own son as a child and the key historical battles of the American Civil War – remain intact, albeit informed by the politics of dealing with vampires.

It’s an interesting take that, in novel form at least, offered a fun alternative to reality for fantasy fans.

In movie form, however, the novelty quickly wears thin. Bekmambetov can’t really avoid proceedings from drifting quickly from one landmark event in Lincoln’s life to the next, thereby depriving them of any real emotional investment or the chance for anyone to build a memorable character.

Hence, while Benjamin Walker is fine, even likeable in the central role of Abe, none of his support really get a chance to register anything other than token roles, including Rufus Sewell’s bland villain, Anthony Mackie’s barely there life-long best friend, Dominic Cooper’s tutor with a secret or Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s going through the motions love interest.

Bekmambetov’s heightened visual sense and style also causes a problem, appearing at odds with the otherwise close attention to period detail. His decision to cast Lincoln as some kind of super-hero, capable of chopping down a tree with one blow of an axe with his rage, feels at odds with the fallible nature of the other humans and isn’t really explained.

Neither, too, is the decision to enable vampires to exist in the daylight or the reliance on silver as killing devices (surely that’s the Achilles heel of werewolves?).

Instead, the director seeks to dazzle us with one set piece after another but even though some of these do impress, the heavy use of CGI is painfully obvious a lot of the time, while several sequences compare a little too closely with previous work Bekmambetov has delivered (from a train sequence ripped straight out of Wanted to the tireless use of stop-start slow-motion action).

The decision to play other things straight, such as the politics involved and the ensuing patriotism, also lends the film a self-serious tone that is similarly at odds with the action.

All told, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a nice idea, poorly executed. And while it does offer absurd fun in small doses, the majority of audiences may well have their own axe to grind come the end of it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 105mins
UK Release Date: June 20, 2012