ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is a wickedly-fun, over-the-top vampire slashfest that requires total suspension of disbelief.
The world of historical fiction has been the subject of many classic novels, which use real historical time periods but fictional characters and situations to tell its story. In those worlds, reality is skewed just enough to make its existence in the real timeline plausible. Novels like Horatio Hornblower, I Claudius, and Patrick O'Brien'sMaster and Commander series were all eventually made into movies that experienced varying levels of success. But the movie ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is different, existing in a highly-stylized world of ultra-violence and slow-motion edits, but told from the perspective of an actual historical figure. Taken from the novel by author Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the screenplay), Hunter is historical fiction on steroids, requiring total suspension of disbelief and a healthy appetite of the macabre to take it seriously. But once those barriers are removed, Hunter is a wild ride, almost challenging its audience with such a ridiculous plot that no amount of sane historical inquiry can be snuck in with the popcorn and soda. Not that we at SJF endorse that kind of behavior...
After witnessing the murder of his mother by his father's former slave boss Jack Barts (Martin Csokas,Alice in Wonderland) when he was nine, the now-adult Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker,Flags of Our Fathers) decides to exact revenge by first getting drunk at a bar. There, he meets the European-stylized Henry (Dominic Cooper, Captain America: TFA), who attempts to discourage Lincoln from carrying out such folly. Soon, Lincoln has Barts dead on the ground, or so he thinks. Barts is really a vampire, and the human trafficking he conducts represents food for the growing vampire population in the South. Henry steps in to save Lincoln's life, but only with the promise that he join Henry's campaign to slay the escaped Barts and the other night crawlers. Soon, the former rail splitter is doing just that, but not before several funny and well-done sequences with Henry 'training' Lincoln with his fists. An unconventional man, Lincoln won't use standard weapons to kill blood-suckers, instead choosing one of a rail splitter to carry out his task. Covered in silver, Lincoln's axe becomes the anvyl for his war against those who killed his mother. The work of a vampire hunter is a night job, and Lincoln must maintain a low profile by working as a store clerk for friend Joshua Speed (Jimmi Johnson, Zodiac).
There, Lincoln meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), quite against the wishes of Henry, who demands 'no connection, no children' from his disciple. Courted by Senator Stephen Douglas (the uncredited Alan Tudyk, 3:10 to Yuma), Smith interjects a bit of historical irony, as Douglas and Lincoln will eventually debate the issue of slavery throughout Illinois in 1858. As Lincoln wins Todd's hand and begins to ascend through the ranks of political society, his vampire body count begins to rise. This merits the attention of head vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell, The Illusionist), who sends his assistant (supermodel Erin Wasson) to stop Lincoln. As the Civil War begins and moves quickly to the critical Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln must decide if he'll continue to fight Adam, protect his family, or try to save the nation from a South littered with vampires and slaveholders.
Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) bathes Vampire in slow-motion visuals (think vampires meet 300),Matrix-like stunts, and a horse chase that might become an instant classic . Unlike some green-screen directors whose actors appear stolid, uncomfortable, and perhaps incapable of imagining the action, Bekmambetov's subjects flow through each sequence, carrying out bloody acts of aggression in a way that looks and feels like gruesome ballet. Walker plays a terrific Lincoln (although original frontrunner Tom Hardy would have been interesting as well), as does Cooper's playboy Henry. There's not one miscast here, with the beautiful Winstead offering nice visual breaks from all the carnage. The 3D transfer (whether it was post-produced or shot in 3D) is easily one of the best of the year, showing off a possible new trend of creating lifelike depth rather than the totally unsatisfying in-your-face style of Clash of the Titans. Composer Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class) leads the audience through a soundtrack that's dark, pulsing, and serves the overall feel of the story very well.
There are some bumps and misfires along the way - some uneven makeup designs, particularly with Lincoln, and his 'one-hit' tree sequence with Henry is way out of character - but the overall effect and look of the picture is highly entertaining. Again, remember that this film requires complete suspension of disbelief and ignoring the bastardization of several real historical events to advance the vampire storyline. There's a lot left out from the Vampire novel that would have been interesting to see played out on the big screen, including Lincoln's meeting with none other than Edgar Allan Poe, who also received star treatment this year in the under-appreciated but better The Raven. However, given the fact that shooting to world premiere took only one year, it's amazing the 105-minute film looks as good as it does: credit Producer Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow) with helping to pull that off.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is presidential author Doris Kearns-Goodwin's worst nightmare. World-renowned historians like her might not want to watch the film, based on the way it selectively uses historical facts to advance the story, not to accurately depict significant events as they unfolded. But baring that small population of history enthusiasts, Vampire will appeal to fans of the book as well as newcomers who should be impressed by how unafraid it is of its own bombast. It's purely fun to watch, the acting is solid, and the 3D transfer is actually better than Pixar's Brave. It should more than make up for its paltry $70 million budget and outperform its bloated Battleship and John Carter competitors with a style that's completely over the top and proud of it. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is rated R for intense violence, nudity, and sexual situations
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