Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell • Directed by Timur Bekmambetov • Age restriction: 16V • Releases 10 August
Let's be honest, one would hardly go to a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter expecting cinematic and thematic brilliance. And you do get exactly what it says on the box: One of America's most iconic presidents, hunting and killing vampires and preserving the fate of mankind. What did surprise me though, was exactly how entertaining I found it – for the most part.
Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) vows to have his revenge on Jack Barts, the man who killed his mother. However, when a bullet through the eye fails to kill Barts and Abe is himself almost killed, Lincoln is drawn to a complex supernatural world he never knew existed. Under the guidance of vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), Abe learns how to destroy the undead and moves to Springfield to weed out vampires in the area, with one eye on big boss Adam (Rufus Sewell), a slave owner whose goal is to stamp out the rule of mankind.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith from his novel of the same name, and combines actual historical events with a healthy dose of fictional vampire-killing in a variety of increasingly insane, gruesome ways. The whole production straddles an uncomfortable line: The premise is absurdly cool and silly, although some of the subject matter is quite serious – the emancipation of slaves, for one – and the film attempts to split itself down the middle without much success, falling flat on its face in fits of self-importance. The movie takes itself surprisingly seriously, even though it is at its best when all logic and reason is chucked out the window.
The script is ultimately quite flawed – the timeline doesn't make much sense, and there is a large jump in the middle where Abe was made president. There is opportunity to make intelligent, engaging commentary on social and political issues – I mean, blood-sucking vampires as slave owners? – but the film eschews all of this in favour of squeezing in more blood, more decapitation.
Helmed by Wanted and Day Watch director Timur Bekmambetov and produced by gothic master Tim Burton, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter always promised to be a visually strong and action-packed treat – and it doesn't disappoint in those stakes. Dark and sepia tones dominate the film, which often feels extremely claustrophobic – even in the brightest, most open of settings. And the vampires themselves are some of the best in recent years – they are refreshingly horrifying – definitely not sparkling and much, much more than a simple pair of fangs. Coupled with the 3D – which for the most part, is surprisingly good – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is visually slick and, yes, eye-popping. I may have even ducked once.
If you've seen the Angelina Jolie/James McAvoy film Wanted, you know the type of action sequence that Bekmambetov favours. There's lots of ultra-slow-motion shots on offer, which feels completely self-indulgent and seems to greatly contribute to the running time. The fight choreography is incredible even if the violence begins to border on the obscene after a while. There is one sequence – where Abe pursues Barts through a herd of stampeding horses – in which one of the animals is used as a weapon; another where a vampire's face is slammed into a shelf. It's a definite "not for sensitive viewers" candidate, so prepare yourselves.
Benjamin Walker as Abe is a combination of bland and permanently strained. Next to Dominic Cooper as Henry, Walker stumbles through the film a bit like a wooden block. Cooper on the other hand is a complete whirlwind, blitzing through the film with high energy and camera-dominating presence. His scenes with Rufus Sewell (Adam) are deliciously surreal and high-intensity. Mary Elizabeth Winstead appears as a completely non-Mary Todd version of Abe's wife, Mary Todd, but although she is quite delightfully porcelain she is quite forgettable.
In all, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is probably a safe bet for a guys' night out at the movies, where escapism, bloodshed and complete absurdity is the order of the day.