Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the exact movie you’d expect from a title that eloquent. You know all those chuckles you’ve heard every time the trailer plays in a theater? Those laughs were justified, as director Timur Bekmambetov‘s adaptation no more is pure, straight-faced silliness. Adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith, from his page-turning novel of the same name, isn’t half as serious or coherent as his original work, but it’s doubtful we’ll see a more bizarre movie this year.
The Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) we get in Bekmambetov’s “loose” biopic is introduced to vampires and death early in his life, thanks to an evil member of the undead, who takes away his mother’s life. From that moment on, Abe swears to kill them all. What he soon finds is a nation that’s filled with them, and once he takes office, he’ll have to fight them off in a war for the nation. On the opposing side of Abe’s fight for freedom is Adam (Rufus Sewell), a vampire who believes its his kind’s time to reign. With the assisstance of his wife Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Will (Anthony Mackie) and Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), he will have to lead a bloody and painful fight against Adam and his (Confederate) nation.
Ironically, for a movie with vampire hunting in the title, there’s a sore lack of it. The set-up, for one thing, is as rushed as they come. In the novel, Grahame-Smith lets Abe’s early life play out a bit more, building up to his commitment to vampire hunting. In the movie, he buys into the idea of vampires and the proposition of hunting them all too quickly. That’s not the only jump-the-gun storytelling we get, as Abe and Mary fall in love literally in the space of one scene.
One would expect a large amount of footage was left on the cutting room floor. There are jarring cuts all over the place. Will knows Mary and how great of a woman she is before we even see him meet her. Speed rescues Abe and Will from a vampire via carriage, and then moments later the carriage is nowhere to be seen, as the three of them roam the woods.
One of the many other narrative beats missing is what Bekmambetov’s Wanted and Night Watch had: a looking-glass character, an entry point. In Wanted, Wesley Gibson questioned the lunacy of the world he was thrown into. Abe or Will never react to this place where vampires exist. Bekmambetov is a world-building type of filmmaker, but here it’s as if he ran out of time to establish what the audience needs to truly invest themselves in this high-concept B-movie.
If Bekmambatov thrives somewhere here, it is constantly topping himself in the nut-so department. We get a vampire throwing a horse, the idea of fighting confederate vampires with silve and so on and so forth. What makes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter overcome its rigid narrative is its tonal commitment and Bekmambetov’s playful style. None of the actors go big, as they leave it to Bekmambetov to go there for them. Some may find the lack of irony disappointing, but it makes the film all the more funny. There is no need for the cast to wink at the material they are working with, as the jokes speak for themselves.
The fact that Vampire Hunter take itself so seriously is what makes the film stand out, if just barely. In a season filled with mediocrity, a tentpole film that dares to go this out there, while never making a smirk, makes it more admirable than its weak script. When the film isn’t working as a blood spattering B-movie, it’s glaring storytelling flaws leave one to wonder what happened. Bekmambetov’s film is far from a good movie, but it’s still a good time.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hits theaters on Friday, June 22nd.
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