President Lincoln's mother is killed by a supernatural creature, which fuels his passion to crush vampires and their slave-owning helpers.
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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter shows a very different side of America's sixteenth president. The film starts when Abraham is a young boy in Indiana and his mother is killed while he watches through a crack in the floor. Nine years later, the older Abe (Benjamin Walker from Flags of our Fathers) goes to exact revenge on the man, only to find that the man is not a man, but a vampire, a revelation that almost gets him killed. Luckily, Abe is saved by Henry Sturgess (The Devil's Double's Dominic Cooper), a vampire hunter who offers to teach Abe how to kill vampires in exchange for his services as an assassin of the undead. Henry shows Abe everything he needs to know, including the vampires' weaknesses and their history, which all points back to one vampire named Adam (Rufus Sewell from The Illusionist). After his training, Abe moves to Springfield, Illinois, gets a job in a general store as a cover, and quickly learns that America is teeming with vampires. Henry sends him names and Abe kills the vampires, each day hoping that the next name he gets is the one of the vampire who killed his mother. While in Springfield, Abe studies the law, meets his wife Mary (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World heroine Mary Elizabeth Winstead), gets into politics and becomes president, all while leading a double life killing vampires and discovering more evil plots and alliances that Adam is forming that threaten to topple the country.
While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may sound like a cheesy genre mash-up, the film actually plays it pretty straight faced. The film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), and is a pretty dark and dreary depiction of an American Icon. Bekmambetov was the man behind the gritty Russian pseudo-vampire movies Night Watch and Day Watch, so it's no surprise that, instead of going the totally, tongue-in-cheek Buffy the Vampire Slayer route, the director chooses to take a more action-oriented approach, and the results are a film that is a cross between Fright Night and the Sherlock Holmes movies. The movie is full of action, and Abe comes across as a full-blown butt-kicking hero. There's not much character development; Abe is too busy defending the country from vampires for anyone to get to know him. And defend he does - like Buffy, he uses a combination of martial arts and special weaponry (his choice is a silver-coated axe), which Bekmambetov displays with the same kind of slow-mo stop-motion style that has been made popular by films like The Matrix and Sherlock Holmes. Honestly, how can an audience not cheer for Abraham Lincoln when he's beheading vampires in graphic detail?
The screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows), who coincidentally also wrote the book. Grahame-Smith's script takes a few liberties with history, but that's to be expected from the guy who put the undead into a Jane Austen book with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The film may be full of historical inaccuracies, but this isn't a movie that grade school kids are going to watch when learning about the Emancipation Proclamation. What the film does do is tell an exciting story that is full of clever twists and turns that keeps the audience guessing until the last scene. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter uses a story arc that, where the revelations lay, is more like a newer four-act screenplay than a traditional three-act script. The surprises all make sense once they're revealed, and the events unfold much more organically than one would expect from a film that pits Honest Abe against the bloodsucking dead. Everyone knows the real story of Abe Lincoln, and everyone knows how it ends. With vampires injected into the mix, the fun is in the journey, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tells an entertaining and thrilling version of history, however skewed it may be.
The visual effects in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter are impressive, but are so overused that the viewer becomes numb to them at a point. During one early scene, Abe is battling a vampire amidst a herd of galloping horses. The pair jump, flip and step all over the CG-animated equines in a remarkable fit of green-screen production. That scene is exciting, but the excitement wears off by the time that, later in the movie, Abe fights more vampires on the top of a CG moving train. And it's all in 3-D! The effects are obviously the work of a talented group of people, but it's the same work that everyone's seen a million times before. And even the splattering blood is CG - is it wrong to want a little karo syrup blood in a vampire movie?
Like most recent big-budget action/fantasy films, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is in 3-D, and the technology is used pretty well. Of course, there's the gimmicky stuff: a whip crack in the viewer's face, an axe in the audience's lap, etc. But even beyond that, the 3-D imaging is also used to create depth and texture in the film. Bekmambetov and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (National Treasure, The Patriot) use the 3-D to enhance the depth of field and selective focus in the shots, so that the 3-D is more immersive than intrusive, and not at all obnoxious.
Ever since vampires got soft in Twilight, bloody fangs just aren't really scary anymore. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the look and feel of a horror movie, but it's too slick and animated to be scary. It's much more of an action film, anyway, and it succeeds there; the film is almost non-stop action. But the vampires are too stereotypical and predictable to scare anyone but the faintest of heart.
Action, Period Piece, Fantasy, Horror
June 22, 2012