Vampire Hunter Skirts Truth, Fumbles Fiction
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 22 Jun
DVD Release Date: October 23, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: June 22, 2012
Rating: R (for violence throughout and brief sexuality)
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Timur Bekmambetove
Actors: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson
Later this year, Steven Spielberg will release Lincoln, his and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s take on the life of our 16th president. With its Oscar-pedigreed director and star (Daniel Day Lewis), the film, based on a book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, is sure to make waves with high-brow opinion makers, and to generate discussion among film lovers. The melding of American history with a director who has proven adept with historical dramas (Schindler’s List, Amistad) is a tantalizing prospect.
For those who can’t wait to see Lincoln on the big screen, there is another option: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The title is ridiculous, of course, but in a world where the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has caught on, this sort of historical mash-up sounded, from the title alone, like it might be this year’s Zombieland: a high-spirited action film that has fun with genre conventions. Instead, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turns out to be a grim, glum movie. It never finds the right tone, or the right balance between historical send-up and serious historical drama. It would have been better had it left its Stanley Kramer pretensions behind and had embraced its inner Quentin Tarantino.
Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is a haunted man in 1865, but it’s not just the Civil War that’s keeping him down. Ever since he was a young child, Lincoln has been carrying a burden. As a boy, he witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire. His desire for vengeance against the creature who took his mother’s life festers and grows within him, so he jumps at Henry Sturges’ (Dominic Cooper) offer to train Lincoln as a vampire hunter. However, Lincoln’s anger about his mother’s killer is a barrier to fulfilling his calling to kill vampires. Sturges tells Lincoln that the future president must cast aside vengeance if he is to commit to a life of vampire hunting.
Those vampires are, it turns out, everywhere. Sturges tells Lincoln he’s fought vampires that appear to be normal pharmacists, innkeepers and even pastors. In order to commit to vampire hunting, Lincoln must shake off all earthly attachments: family and friends are a thing of the past. All Lincoln needs is some training and a silver axe—his weapon of choice in dispatching the undead.
Distracting Lincoln from his mission is Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the woman Lincoln will eventually marry. Then along comes slavery, a fracturing country and the Civil War. What’s a vampire hunter-turned-president to do?
Those problems are not just Lincoln’s but the audience’s, because the film’s shift away from vampire hunting and toward the huge historical issues Lincoln had to confront sinks the movie. If there’s a way to successfully incorporate Harriet Tubman into a story about hunting vampires, writer Seth Grahame-Smith, adapting his own novel (he also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and director Timur Bekmambetove haven’t found it. Not even Rufus Sewell, as the leader of the undead, can revitalize the story. (You can guess which side of the Civil War the vampires favor.) Nor can the images from cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ), whose compositions don’t benefit from the film’s unnecessary 3D presentation. The movie’s look is often incoherent, with too-dark action scenes and special effects that are more likely to anger patrons who pay the extra money for the glasses than they are to excite them.
The film does attempt to interject some morality into its story, as when two characters discuss slavery and religion. “We’re all slaves to something,” says one. There’s a truth to that statement (Romans 6:17-18), but like the rest of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the filmmakers can’t quite figure out which way to go with it. It’s just one example of how the film skirts the truth while fumbling the fiction. In short, the film has an incoherence that results in a tangled mess of Civil War history and vampire lore.
Perhaps we should count it a blessing rather than a curse that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is instantly forgettable. Historical stories need not always be overly reverent. Different takes on history can awaken us to facets we never considered before. But this film’s multiple failures keep us from thinking beyond its surface shortcomings. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has plenty of blood, but it needed more bite.
- Language/Profanity: “Godd-mn”; “pr-ck”; “balls”; “son of a b-tch”; “dam-it.”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Multiple scenes of drinking.
- Sex/Nudity: A man and woman have sex in a bathtub, and the woman’s bare back is seen; kissing.
- Violence/Crime: Young Abraham wields an axe in anger; a boy is whipped; a bullet to the head, with a hole shown in man’s eye; beheading; bodies dangle, with blood draining from them into receptacles; zombie shoved into fire; a gun is pointed and cocked; brawling; vampires bite the necks of their victims; a stampede; scenes of battle and warfare.
- Marriage: Lincoln proposes to Mary Todd; a wedding scene; vampire hunters are advised to have no friends, family or attachments.
Religion/Morals: The film opens with a quote from Genesis 17; a vow to cast aside vengeance in the pursuit of vampires; real power is said not to come from hate but from truth; silver is explained as a curse to vampires, rooted in Judas’ payment of 30 pieces of silver; a vampire hunter says he seen vampires among pharmacists, innkeepers and pastors; Mary says common-looking people are the best in the world, and that’s why the Lord made so many of them; men are said to have invented gods as a way to forgive themselves for owning slaves; Lincoln quotes the Bible verse about putting away childish things.
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