Genre mash ups aren’t a new invention. For as long as genres have existed so has the combination of them in film and books. However, recently audiences have been exposed to and craving more mash ups in their media. Graphic novels like Cowboys & Aliens have received such popularity that a big budget film version of the novel was created. Zombies and other creatures of lore have seen a rise in popularity as well within the genre mash up trend through New York Times best sellers, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
Based off the novel of the same name, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter tells the “secret” story of Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) and his life’s goal of killing off vampires during the Civil War. It’s the 19th century and Lincoln has seen many hardships in his life including the beating of a close friend and freed slave Will (Anthony Mackie), as a child as well as the death of his mother by a vampire. As Abraham ages he meets Henry (Dominic Cooper), a mysterious looming presence who reveals to him the existence of vampires and their role in society. Vampires have long existed in the shadows, taking advantage of nearly every disadvantaged group throughout the ages from Native Americans to slaves using the minorities to feed on and rule. Abe must use his brawn and brain to stop the impending war on the United States started by the bloodthirsty monsters.
“Four score and seven years ago, I kicked major vamp ass.”
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is a pretty good example of how a period piece should look. Despite its alternate reality and themes, the costumes are authentic of the era and the set design is phenomenal. Also the film’s use of extravagant digital lighting creates an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere of unnaturally natural light. Night scenes are brightened by luminous blues replicating pure moonlight while day scenes are tinged with heavy lustrous orange and golden colors. The lighting makes the seemingly drab time period glow with an array of colors.
However, all that glitters ain’t gold. While the digital lighting works to keep scenes glowing and pretty, the film fails largely because of its annoyingly horrific use of CGI. Director Timur Bekmambetov seemed to think that the only way to capture an effective action scene is to use slow motion and heavy CGI— every damn time. When characters aren’t looking rubbery and fake, nearly every fight scene consists of action happening in painstakingly slow motion. If someone gets kicked, better believe you will see it and the after effects in slow motion. If someone is whipped, the whip and reaction shot will be shown in slow motion. If someone is punched, stabbed, or shot at, it all takes place in slow motion. It’s as if Bekmambetov is begging audiences for their approval to think Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is a cool movie. If that’s not the case, then he must think viewers are incapable of paying attention to action if it’s not slowed down.
“Watch me chop down this tree… very… slowly… here… I… go…”
Although most of the film consists of fight sequences, its editing feels rushed and inconsistent. The editing of scenes is so choppy that I found myself loudly shouting “what!?” more than once throughout the film. Scenes are edited together so quickly that they don’t leave room for audiences to soak in what just happened. In one sequence, Abe attempts to fight off two bounty hunters looking to capture Will. As Will stands on the side of a building, he is within arm’s reach of being ambushed but fights back as Abe joins in. One or two punches are thrown and then bam, cut to Abe and Will sitting in jail. Obviously Bekmambetov didn’t have anything to slow down in the scene, choosing instead to just scrap the fight scene altogether. However, that’s how most of the film is. It moves quickly, not even allowing a few seconds of silence or a beat before jumping instantly on to the next scene.
Now although Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter has a rapid fire speed with edits, it still somehow drags on. Much of the film’s focus is on Abe’s life before his presidency. His youth is spent kicking massive amounts of vampire ass with a silver coated axe and attempting to live a normal life and keep his relationship with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) afloat. But these parts happen uneventfully; there are no funny moments throughout, no true sense of danger or tension, and no moment of genuine connection between characters. The character development is so minimal that no one has the potential to be captivating or anything more than one note good or bad guys.
He freed the slaves, there’s no way he could be a bad guy. Just ignore the fact that he didn’t do it for justice of all men.
While I commend Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter for its originality of combining history and folklore, it would have been much more effective as a film had the history of the Civil War and the legend of vampires themselves been correct. The vampires use slaves for food and not work which brings to mind the question of how was work in the south getting done if the labor was being eaten? Since when were vampires allowed to be in the sun and turn invisible? Slavery wasn’t just a race issue, it was mostly an economic one. The south wanted slavery to continue so they could grow as a region through cheap labor. What was the rest of the south doing while vampires were running things and eating everyone in sight?
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is interesting to say the least. I respect novel and screenplay writer Seth Grahame Smith for taking such a difficult and touchy subject and bringing an element of gothic horror to it; however, that doesn’t make for a great film. Had the details and characters been tweaked and developed better the film could have been an impressive genre mash up. Instead it’s nothing more than cheap entertainment using the hot topic of vampires to get fanboys wet. Shame on you Hollywood, shame.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time a scene takes place in slow motion.
Take a Drink: every time the CGI makes you cringe.
Take a Drink: every time vampires do things that their folklore has never allowed them to do.
Take a Drink: every time you yawn while watching.