Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Erin Wasson, Jimmy Simpson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
(15) Running time: 105 minutes
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson, Erin Wasson
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Abraham Lincoln, as we all know, was the 16th President of the United States, he abolished slavery and lead his country through the bitter American Civil War, among other things. He was NOT a Vampire Hunter, however, the way in which Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows) has written his story, blending truth with fiction, you just might believe Lincoln actually WAS a vampire hunter! If you go in to this film with an open mind, and I mean a general feeling of “I will believe anything”, then you just might get caught up so much that you will come away thinking, “was Lincoln really a vampire hunter?” This film is very clever, very sneaky, it plays on what we know and adds little bits here and there, and the darned thing had me fooled. If you asked me a week ago whether Lincoln was a vampire hunter, I would say don’t be so silly. Ask me now and I just might end up stroking my chin, looking up in contemplation, and my answer just might be: “I am not sure?”
All joking aside, of course he wasn’t, but the sheer scale, brilliance and belief from all those involved here will fool you into thinking he was. Grahame-Smith’s writing is terrific, and Russian director Timur Bekmambetov has proved once again he is one of the most visually arresting artists in the business. I say artist because Bekmambetov is just that, a director with incredibe artistic talent, and if you enjoyed his previous films Night Watch and Day Watch, then you will absolutely love this. After his brief muck about with assassins in Wanted, Bekmambetov is back to horror, with some truly amazing looking vampires on screen. Hell, for all the visionary brilliance and spectacular action, he even finds room to deliver some genuine scares with perfectly timed moments of terror. Bekmambetov is a director who showed incredible talent with his ‘Watch’ films, and after meddling with a much bigger budget with Wanted, we knew the director was just teasing us as to what he could do next. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter see’s Bekmambetov let rip, with a huge budget, some astonishing performances and special effects that will make your eyes water.
The film opens with a young Lincoln witnessing the murder of his Mother by a group of vicious vampires: the same vampires who force his Father to work off a debt and use slavery of black people for their own means. Lincoln brings about the death of his Mother by standing up for his best friend, a black boy, and this leads to the event that will fuel Lincoln’s hatred of vampires, and mission to abolish slavery. In his late teens, and with his Father now dead, Lincoln (a terrific Benjamin Walker) is able to go on a mission to seek out the Vampire who murdered his Mother, and kill him. Not yet trained in the art of fighting the undead, Lincoln’s first attempt at slaying a vampire does not go to plan, but it does bring him a mentor in the shape of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Sturgess takes Lincoln under his wing and trains him how to fight and kill vampires, and eventually gives him a list of vampires he must seek and destroy before he gets the chance to kill the one vampire who fuelled his quest. Lincoln moves to a small town, meets a woman and while hunting vampires at night, teaches himself how to become a lawyer, and eventually moves into politics. The film very cleverly plays as a historic true story, with a supernatural fictional story working directly alongside it, and the two come together perfectly.
Benjamin Walker is stunning as Lincoln: he engulfs the role, plays it with passion and determination and had this been a simple look at Lincoln the president, I couldn’t think of a better suited actor for the part. Even when he is fighting and slicing up Vampires, you actually believe it is Lincoln himself doing the deeds, and not some fictionalised Lincoln spin-off. The casting choices here are all perfect, with Dominic Cooper creating a character you know you must trust, but never quite understand in Henry Sturgess. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a lot more than just look pretty, and both Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson do wonderful work as Lincoln’s aides. Rufus Sewell oozes menace as the head of the vampire family Adam, and this is a welcome return of an actor who has been out of the big films for far too long. His portrayal of Adam is terrific, and hopefully will lead on to bigger roles for the actor who has been deserving of a role like this for years. Erin Wasson sexes up the villainess role as Adam’s trusty assassin Vadoma: a scene where she sits on a chair to hold down Lincoln is one of those moments where you really would die happy!
However, with such a brilliant and fun loving cast, excellent and near genius story, the film also has the visionary flare of a director as good as Bekmambetov, and boy he never lets you sit still for a second. At one hour and forty five minutes, the film rarely slows down, never gets boring, and scenes come and go at a perfect, blistering pace. Nothing here ever really lingers for too long, and no scene ever outstays its welcome. This film is frantic from beginning to end, and with an exceptional and often extremely loud score, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the movie equivalent of riding a rollercoaster. But, we haven’t even got to the best bits yet! I have mentioned the director time and again, so let’s explain why this chap is so damned good. The film is littered with visionary flare and plenty of slow motion action which actually benefits from slow motion. Think of the incredible visual feast of Tarsem Singh’s Immortals, and mix that with Bekmambetov’s already legendary visuals from his two ‘Watch’ films, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The effects are effortless, flawless and epic. A simple scene of a vampire being thrown against a barn wall is pumped up to levels not seen before, Hell, even the simple whipping of a slave boy is formed into a big, painful and loud slow motion shot. The one on one Vampire slayings are met with one moment of originality and brilliance after another: the directors flare and imagination running riot, and it is his skill to carefully contain his ideas which makes them so striking to watch. However, when Bekmambetov goes big, he really goes big! The first true standout moment comes about half way through where Lincoln is chasing a Vampire through the countryside, while right in the middle of a stampede of horses. The scene is simply breathtaking, and you will be amazed at what are witnessing on screen, but later scenes like a battle with a large group of Vampires, or scenes from the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, all more bigger, more epic than the next, will have you gasping in awe. Here is a director who has mastered his art and is very comfortable with his craft.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a horror film at heart, a history lesson on the surface and a big, blistering action packed thrill ride from start to finish. To see it, and fully appreciate it, you should watch it in 3D or on Blu-ray on the biggest screen possible. This is what big screens were made for, it is loud, fast, brilliant, magnificent and epic. Here is a director at the top of his game: a film that never allows you to get bored, it may cause you to leap out of your seat a number of times either to punch the air in delight, or cowering from a well delivered scare. You will be convinced Lincoln DID hunt Vampires, you will be convinced that Bekmambetov IS a name you should take note of, and you will be convinced that watching films can be fun, can be energetic and it most certainly can take you into another world for two hours. Epic stuff, brilliant fun and a jolly good bit of excitement!