Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Genre Killer
To begin with, the title is a misnomer. Not in the literal sense as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does deliver on a bit of the ol’ uber violence, but in the expectation a title like that conjures. Taking an historical legend and filling in any blank spaces in his back-story with a ham-handed vampiric slasher really promises fun. Who didn’t instantly fantasize Abe Lincoln, beset with top hat and iconic beard, cleaving his way through beasts and spouting one-liners? Like the action films of old, where farcical titles like Die Hard 2: Die Harder delivered exactly what you expected: mindless fun. There’s been an unwelcome shift away from the tropes of your treasured seminal action flicks (granted this may have something to do with a certain day in September 2001), but that’s not to say the dynamic isn’t still fun, because that’s all it is. It takes an otherwise jarringly ludicrous scenario and makes it relatable and humane. It resonates with that pre-teen 90’s kid who gawked at the mind-numbing idiocy of explosions, sweaty shoot-outs and genuinely enjoying every minute of it.
Unfortunately, writer Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote both the novel and the screenplay, has somehow grossly overestimated the legitimacy of his premise. Did he really think a serious take on this genre mash-up would actually deliver anything but bitter disappointment? Apparently so. What makes or breaks a film like this then, is treatment. And to thoroughly strip the story of all self-consciousness is plain delusional. That’s not to say the film should be outright satire, as the term is too reductive. It shouldn’t deride or openly mock the conventions of the genre, but inhabit them, prove to the now actively post-modern audience that none of them have dated. There is a benchmark set for this kind of film and that would essentially be anything Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright concoct together. Well, specifically, Hot Fuzz, whose loving send-up of action films was everything Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should have been and had. To successfully pull off stunning action sequences while simultaneously playing up to their universally recognisable attributes is all you have to do. The point is not to have a point but to be, above all, fun. For God’s sake, the title alone strikes that note so whole-heartedly that you reflexively expect the film to be full of action spectacle and self-conscious fun.
But no. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter certainly is not. That’s fine, abandon expectation. But then you’re in the ridiculous position of making a serious movie about a former president of the United States moonlighting as a Van Helsing knock-off. Which is also fine, so long as you stick any manifestation of a thematic landing. The subject material and chronological period is actually beneficial here, loaded with all kinds of political and historical intrigue. The struggle against slavery. Brothers fighting brothers. The birth of a nation. You don’t even have to explicitly explain or describe the climate, just depict it with some relevance and use it to unify a thematic focus. While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does set a lazy eye on slavery; it really doesn’t make anything of it. It simply says: SLAVERY IS BAD. This is somewhat problematic as I’m fairly certain everyone knows this, and anyone who doesn’t really doesn’t deserve a say… Unless they’re the baddies in an action movie. At which juncture they’d have to spout their heinous motives boldly, and commit dastardly acts in stark contrast to the righteous hero. But the vampiric horde in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter never have a clear motive, nor do they seem to do anything but sell their inherent talents to battling civil troops and sporadically torture Abe with familial threats.
Therein lies another mortal flaw: the complete lack of depth to any of the characters. Not once do we actually care about anybody displayed on-screen, even with the pathetic attempts at back stories and a crude, empty explanation for their motivations.
For a budding screenwriter, this could all be forgivable folly. After all, you’ve got backing from Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov and an already successful novel. However, Grahame-Smith is also responsible for the appalling Dark Shadows, which suffered from a similar lack of character and charm, and reportedly, he’s penned as writer for the upcoming sequel to Beetlejuice (fucking what?). A creative coupling with Tim Burton, whose head is now and forever lost deep in his own ass, is downright fucking terrifying.
Please don’t encourage them?
Oh, and P.S., those banking on some sweet visual effects can forgo the film too; they’re pretty bad. Especially the scene in which Abe pursues a vampire through a team of horses, and somehow the vampire lobs an unsuspecting horse in our eponymous hero’s direction, whom even more inexplicably is able to flip it round and mount it in a single action.