24 June 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(Dir: Timur Bekmambetov, 2012)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a film with a concept so outlandish that it had an equal chance of turning out to be inspired brilliance or a terrible hugely expensive mistake. The story is as simple as the name suggests – the 16th President of the United States has a secret life as a vampire hunter, or did before taking office. After seeing his mother murdered by a vampire when he was a child Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) swore vengeance, but after a failed opportunity to send this bloodsucker back to hell, Henry (Dominic Cooper) comes into his life and trains him up on how to slay the living dead. Thus he sets about slaughtering vampires, falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and ends up becoming President.

So let me say from the outset, I like the idea of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It’s ridiculousness makes it sound like a lot of fun and there’s nothing like subverting history in such a wild way. However that all becomes a waste of time when the film turns out to be a horrible turgid mess. Any good will from the idea quickly dissipates when you realise that this film isn’t actually going to be any fun at all.

Firstly, from a technical perspective, it’s horribly shot and visually looks washed out, like a poor quality low budget film, not a big budget Hollywood movie. This isn’t aided by the filmmakers aiming for over-stylised; so we get the now overused super-slow-motion moments in the middle of action sequences, which can sometimes work well in films (300 for example) but not here, and an overabundance of CGI which frequently looks fake and frustratingly jarring. I watched it in 2D – I can only imagine how bad it looked in 3D. And then there’s the editing which is at times abysmal. The film doesn’t really flow well and there were a few occasions where I thought, did I just briefly fall asleep and miss something? No. I didn’t fall asleep, not once. The film was just missing the fluidity and basic coherence required for certain scenes to make sense, which is just shoddy. Take the train on burning bridge sequence – that’s a masterclass on how not to edit an action scene.  

A film like this should be fun and entertaining, yet it ends up feeling like a dull lesson in politics. Really, why? No-one who watches this wants a plodding history lesson. Now I know a little bit of politics is inescapable considering Lincoln is involved, but we instead manage to lose the vampire hunting version of him for a good chunk in the middle of the film, particularly when they decide to jump twenty or thirty years so they can make the second half of the film about Gettysburg, which was a terrible decision for the story. And the less said about the poor ageing make-up, which barely aged some and massively aged others, the better.

From a casting perspective I found Benjamin Walker to be thoroughly bland and actually quite irritating as Lincoln, particularly the younger version. He has height on his side though. Mary Elizabeth Winstead didn’t feel right in her role either, whilst Rufus Sewell as the head vampire bad guy is pretty uninspiring and toothless. I have two positives to note about the film, firstly Cooper did a good job as Henry and I enjoyed his presence, so any scene with him was automatically better than everything else. Secondly, Walker can wield an axe very effectively (Lincoln’s vampire slaying weapon of choice) and those moments of vertiginous swinging briefly threatened to swathe some interest through the rest of the turgid mire. That was until it connected with rubbish and unscary CGI vampires.

Boring as hell, uninspired and technically a total mess – that’s the best way I can describe Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The only other Timur Bekmambetov film I’ve seen is Wanted so I really shouldn’t be surprised by this. Likewise Tim Burton’s involvement as producer seems appropriate considering his form since the end of the nineties (see my Dark Shadows review). This is a B-Movie writ large as a Hollywood summer blockbuster. The two rarely mesh. I couldn’t help but think of Iron Sky with it’s own ridiculous concept (Nazi’s that have been hiding on the dark side of the moon invade Earth), which despite being a bad film is still a lot of fun and manages to be incisive about politics through some very funny OTT humour, but that exhibits pure B-Movie aesthetics which is exactly what’s missing from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. If I hadn’t watched The Devil Inside this year, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter would be the worst film I’ve seen so far in 2012. It’s really bad. Don’t waste your time.

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