Wednesday 27 June 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Year: 2012
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell

Synopsis is here:

The name literally says it all, and yet still doesn't do enough to live up to it's pulpy expectations. What could have been a hyperactive, knock around b-movie with an abundance of topical subtext (for those who want that sort of thing) is actually a film that excites in nothing but name only. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter suggests a truck load of thrills, but apart from one or two catchy visuals, the film is a damp squib.

One should have known that their hard earned blue beer tokens, were to be wasted on a lackluster endeavour, when the first montage sprang forth from it's dusty crypt. Why so dusty? For it was a training montage that even the weaker Rocky movies may have jeered at. This for me, was the first sign that the films blend of history and horror myth may have been misguided.

Once again into the breech one goes, to a film that doesn't just trim the fat of it's story, it hacks at the meat. Characters are introduced as somewhat important, before vanishing quicker than the on screen vampires. There are sub-plots, which hint a much more thrilling and enjoyable movie, that are yanked away like ill gotten weeds round a prized plant. What we a left with however, are some malnourished buds struggling to flower.

The film stilted story, pitches the idea that while America fought a brutal battle with itself, something more ominous lied underneath. The idea that this civil unrest and the fear of the minority "other" helped usher in another odious (yet more mythical) threat to humanity, is an interesting premise. That slavery helped breed actual monsters underneath such a blood stained veil, is a quirk of a concept that the film never gets to grips with. The film talks about slavery, and has yet another thankless supporting role for poor Anthony Mackie to looked pained in as some sort of representation. However; as Hollywood hasn't been particularly good with tackling race in recent years (see the navel gazing Oscar winner Crash), the film keeps well away from truely confronting any of America's complex relations (a metaphor is placed and quickly forgotten about). It does however, have a bunch of uninviting set pieces that tries to bond all the dull plot points together. However, considering the film jumps from pillar to post with no real rhyme or reason, it doesn't matter. Don't go to the loo, or you'll miss Honest Abe jump from lowly shopkeep to President in a blink of an eye. 

For me a big problem is how the more fantastical elements are handled. The mythology of the teen dream vamps of twilight are better explored. At least there we get a better hence of the world those vampires inhabit. Watching the wasted Rufus Sewell do as much as he can with a villain with no palatable threat is no only heartbreaking but revealing. No mewling quim moments here. Despite all the bloodshed, these vampires lack the the bite which make others so memorable. I'd rather be watching the Master when he executed a similar plan in an early episode of Buffy, but that's just me. I do believe however, Abe's rag tag Scooby gang would have the Wheedonverse howling with laughter, such is their paper thin characters. Expected in a film such as this, but still not welcomed. 

This is not to say that director Timur Bekmambetov doesn't bring anything to the table, as his off kilter visual trademarks crop up here as they did in Wanted and the Nightwatch Saga. However, for all Wanted's alterations, and the muddled plot aspects of Nightwatch, both still managed a sense of purpose and consistent tone. The moment of a vampire leaping into a crowd of charging horses, and using them as moving road blocks, is an outlandish one, but it comes few and far between, considering just how po face serious this film takes itself. The glazed over look of relative unknown and lead Benjamin Walker helps sum up that even when something vaguely amazing happens, it's just another day for old Honest Abe

The bothersome thing is that I worry about some of the more gullible viewers in the audience. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is so dull throughout, that they may take the film on board as a horribly inaccurate history lesson. As it seems that Mr Lincoln's b-movie crusades are more interesting in title than execution. 

Note: Those interested in a brilliant melding of vampire thrills and Americana could do worse than picking up the excellent Steakland, which mixes, religion, the old west and bloodsuckers into a modern post-apocalyptic road movie stew.