By Dave Beauchene
Classic cinematic wisdom suggests you always watch the whole film, top to bottom, otherwise you may miss something that could drastically impact your opinion. It’s movies like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that add heaps to the pile of evidence that implys …nah, you can kinda tell how good a movie is within the first 10 minutes. Sure the plot can take dramatic shifts before the end, but noticeably mis-paced scenes don’t tend to be one offs. How a film is created – directed, edited, etc. – tends to hold true throughout. Barring the minute long, fade-back-in-time intro, I could tell something was off in this movie from the very first scene.
This is, just for a quick reminder, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. This is not rhetorical material. Half the draw in seeing it is seeing how they could possibly go about it (at least for me). It needs to harness our disorientation with deliberate, inspired execution – it needs to win us onboard by proving that the premise is not all they have, but that it merely opens the door to the things they have in store. The movie plays as though it were created by people who were told to mix Abraham Lincoln and vampires, rather than by people who want to genuinely mix the two.
I am aware, for the record, that it was adapted from a book of the same name, and I’ve already taken it that the book was better. I have serious trouble buying that it could have been that much better, however, when the two worlds collide this insipidly. I have no problem admitting: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the title, is fun. Not brilliant, just … well it’s always fun to take something from one world and tone, and completely replace it, especially when it involves some kind of pop culture stock (how could Pride and Prejudice NOT run into Zombies, at some point?). Obviously you wouldn’t go into a movie like this expecting art, or at least not high art, but there’s no premise so stupid that it necessarily means a hollow, awful motion picture. I could not blatantly see how Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter was supposed to work, but I also wasn’t going to be aghast if it managed to. Look at all the preposterous crap in the past ten years of movies that’s pulled that off.
The chief reason that this movie did not work for me was not the issue of Abraham Lincoln slaying vampires (that, when it happens, is a mild highlight) but the absolutely dead-eyed gaze this movie transfixes with you. It just goes from thing to thing to thing, some simple and vaguely historical, some preposterous, and at no time feels like it has the faintest clue why it’s going on. There is an awful, cheap looking sepia tone to the picture that washes out what’s already been registered blander than hell. The actors are all good. All of ‘em. But as the classic complaint goes: they’ve nothing to work with here. As for Timur Bekmambetov, our director, as with Wanted, he shows vague capability with action beats and generally nothing very notable otherwise.
I can’t quibble with the value of history, but to say that the plot line is boring as all get out is to attack the concoction of it all, and if you’re retelling Lincoln as a vampire hunter, then guess what: you are now responsible for how entertaining the story telling is. Nothing remotely interesting develops; it all just plods on rhetorically. Of course Lincoln’s life was interesting, but that doesn’t play into this film’s narrative. It is relentlessly torn between too worlds it has no flair for depicting in their own right, let alone brining together. And as a side note, the vampires being able to disappear was like pulling the pin on the suspense support system. I’ve never seen Vampires do this before, but they do it here, so our hero can frantically and inanely try to wrangle them without anything of interest actually happening on the screen. We wait through eons of boredom for the vampire hunter thing to kick in, and half the time the vampires just poof into thin air. It doesn’t make me mad, it makes me bored and confused.
I also have to ask, and I know this flies in the face of the tone of the book, but why isn’t this funny? Why doesn’t it at least wink way more? That was another huge issue: this attempt to resonate very real, very important history with a bunch of intentionally kitschy horror – seriously. It does absolutely nothing for the actual history at hand; how could it? How could you make the touchstones of Lincoln’s presidency more relevant? It cheapens them, it’s trite but pretty obviously true to say. And for what? The movie has no idea at all, other than that’s simply what it’s about.
I really disliked this movie. I enjoyed Snow White and The Huntsman more. I was ready to leave at any moment. I went from being playfully skeptical of its premise, to angry that anyone would have the disrespect for an audience to follow it through this pointlessly. Like so many films in its league, the movie is not even remarkably, joyfully bad (for fuck’s sake, could you ask for a better candidate?) it’s just strikingly empty, pointless and boring. Believe the hype.