[rating=3]Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson
Director(s): Timur Bekmambetov
Writer(s): Seth Grahame-Smith, from his own novel
Okay class, it’s time for today’s alt-history U.S. History prior to 1865. Open your books to the chapter on Abraham Lincoln. Our story today begins when Lincoln was just a young boy, living in Indiana. It was there that he encountered his first vampire.
I can almost picture my favorite teacher of history, Ms Fonfa, saying this as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter opens, with the young Lincoln trying to intervene in the whipping of another young boy, the son of slaves, who are having their family ripped apart. When his attempt to stop the beating fails, Abraham is himself about to be whipped when his father intervenes.
That intervention proves costly as his father soon loses his job. The cost increases when the employer, Jack Barts, invades the Lincoln’s home and does something to his mother, that the young Abe watches in silent horror. The mother died soon afterward.
We then see the young adult Abe drinking in a bar. He’s trying to find courage in liquor in order to kill the man he blames for his mother’s death when a stranger at the bar comes up to him. The stranger says something about a man only getting that drunk if he wants to kiss a girl or kill a man. Then the pistol falls from within Lincoln’s coat.
Nonplussed, Abe picks up his pistol and leaves to track down his target. In spite of a problem or two, he manages to shoot his target in the eye and it seems that he has his vengeance. But the corpse disappears and soon Abraham is fighting for his life against the creature that Jack Barts really is. Just as it seems he is about to die, the stranger from the bar appears, saves Abe’s life and steals him away.
When Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) awakens, he’s in the home of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who informs Abe that he was fighting a vampire, what vampires are and the risks they pose for humans, and offers to teach him how to hunt them. But there is a price to be paid to become a hunter and unless Lincoln is willing to commit to paying that price, he won’t learn the fine art of hunting vampires.
Soon Lincoln is out in the world, living in Springfield and working in the store as employee of Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson). He meets Stephen Douglas and his fiancée, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and becomes enamored of her in spite of instructions to not form attachments. And he begins to receive instructions on which vampires to kill. He dispatches them with his twirling, silver-tipped axe and soon he is regularly digging graves for his kills, well off the beaten path. He wants but isn’t going to receive the order to kill the one vampire he truly lusts to slaughter, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). And, the vampire leadership, headed by Adam (Rufus Sewell) becomes aware of the hunter and wants to do something about him.
There are battles, confrontations, jeopardy, and eventually Lincoln puts away his axe and begins the public life that leads him to the White House. The vampire issue will arise again, once the Civil War breaks out. It is here that history is a device to be used to insert vampires into conflict between humans, and there is a sinister plot that must be stopped.
The best feature is that director Bekmambetov doesn’t play any of this for camp or laughs. The action is frenetic, a bit repetitive, but still fun to watch. By playing it more or less “straight,” he gives the actors and the material the best chance to work. Because the notion that the man who freed the slaves was actually a male version of Buffy is a bit hard to swallow, playing this any way other than straight would have meant for a major disappointment.
Again, if we had half-ratings, this would be more like a 2 and ½, but this refusal to give in to the temptation to camp it up works in the film’s favor. There is misdirection and an ending history has foretold, but they are still a bit predictable. The actors do their best, but the roles are limiting to a degree.
It was an excellent effort. It was better than I expected as well, but my expectations weren’t too high going in.
Run Time: 1 hr., 45 mins.