You can almost hear the pitch for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: “It’s mostly slow-motion shots of the 16th President swinging an axe…” “Great, where do I sign?”
But pulling off a project as inherently ridiculous as this is no mean feat: you can’t play it too straight because… vampires. But you can’t give too many knowing winks or ironic sneers or your audience will lose interest. Timur Bekmanbetov’s adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel walks the tightrope pretty well. It’s not going to change you life, but then it’s called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – it was never going to stand next to Gone With the Wind.
It works, for the most part, thanks to Benjamin Walker, who is about as convincing as the eponymous President you can hope, given the premise. He looks like he really believes it, hacking and slashing and leaping his way through increasingly over-the-top action sequences, none of which, barring an impressive fight amid a stampede of wild horses, feels particularly original. More often than not, Lincoln’s real battle is against is against the profligate overuse of CGI.
The fun lies in spotting how the formative events in Lincoln’s life are given a vampire-red lick of paint: the death of his mother (not, in this version, from milk sickness); his entry into politics; his wife’s latter-day madness. Indeed, the entire civil war becomes a battle against shadowy vampiric forces. Heavy Union losses at Gettysburg? Yup, that was vampires. IT’S ALL VAMPIRES.
To call it “clever” would be giving it more credit than it’s due but it has a certain rat-like cunning that it’s hard to resist smiling at.
First published in City A.M.