Dubious though the honor may be, Timur Bekmambetov can now claim a very special title: director of what may well be the ugliest and most thinly-written blockbuster film of the last decade. A tonal catastrophe, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter mashes up comedy, action, violence, parody, tragedy, horror, romance, and war drama with the same finesse an infant might display shoving legos, k’nex, a discarded action figure arm, and Lincoln logs all into the same dried up mound of play-doh. While these disparate pieces are held together as something you might call a “movie” by the gravity of a solid central performance, at best the film manages only the occasional schlock-level pulse of point-and-laugh-at-it entertainment, and only when it decides to be extra stupid (which granted, is often).
It’s unclear on what level anybody involved understood what kind of movie was being made, so it is a little difficult to entirely write off as an oblivious misfire- perhaps there really is a level of failed parody. Regardless, author/screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith adapts his own kitschy biography of President Lincoln and proves here that the unraveling stupidity of the Dark Shadows script was no fluke- seems the guy just flat fucking sucks at writing horror mashups. Hell, we all would have been better off if he’d expanded Vampire Hunter into a full-on shameless Blade rip off, rather than just a wack appropriation of that film’s basic dynamic.
Here Graham-Smith is also faced with the challenge of cramming an entire guy’s life into a blockbuster script that not only has no time for the usual pacing and delicacy of a cradle-t0-grave biopic, but also has to carve out plenty of time for spectacle. His solution is to turn the film into an episodic, bullet-point style rundown of notable events in Lincoln’s life (his mother’s death, meeting Mary Todd, getting the political bug, becoming president) that can be easily twisted to involve vampires, and require no real linking throughline beyond “vampires are evil, and they’re out there doing evil vampire shit.” The lead villain and his sidekick are barely worth acknowledging.
While fidelity to historical fact is really quite unnecessary for a movie like this, it should be noted that not only does Vampire Hunter lack the historical depth of even a Wikipedia intro-paragraph, the film’s timeline more resembles what you’d get if you had a 4th grader copy a classmate’s history notes, and then repeated that process half a dozen times. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the screenplay was scribbled in crayon on handwriting paper.
It’s also not as if the movie’s versions of the players in Lincoln’s life are lent any extra depth or interest by the fictional twist, as they all just kind of bounce around like falling Pinko chips with only their most obvious goals driving them. This kind of bad script goes well beyond mere lame screenwriting, and could only be the result of a novel author trying desperately to condense his full book into a screenplay without any mastery of the tools or understanding of the kinds of decisions that would go into doing so successfully. The block of the film in which Dominic Cooper’s Henry Sturges meets, saves, montage trains, and employs Lincoln as a dispatcher of the undead is a segment that makes it particularly clear that the momentum of the gimmick was much more of a priority than actual characterization or relationship-building.
Taking on this tin-eared mess is director Timur Bekmambetov and his over-eager need to film every page of the script with the eye of Zach Snyder’s reanimated, rotting corpse. Vampire Hunter is packed with all the slow-mo, CGI, and high-concept action stuff you’d expect, with none of the hyper-glossy sophistication of your usual blockbuster. The end product, more often than not, is a digital smear of smoke and dust covering up CGI stunt after CGI stunt, post-converted into one of the most terrible 3D experiences yet projected, and often finished with compositing so bad it would have stood out in Van Helsing. Speaking of which, Bekmambetov’s film has a lot in common with that 2006 disaster, specifically that the monsters aren’t scary, the horror isn’t horrifying, the action isn’t thrilling, and the humor isn’t funny.
Most of the Bekmambetov’s miscalculations manifest in the harmless absurdity of something like, say, Lincoln chasing/fighting a vampire on top of a herd of horses that stampede for no reason. Unfortunately though, the story of Lincoln inherently requires Bekmambetov to brush up against very real historical tragedies, such as slavery. A demonstration of the director’s finesse with such moments can be seen right in the first scene, in which an evil slave-driver whips young William Johnson and we’re treated to a speed-ramping view of a CGI whip flying through the air and scaring Johnson’s face. The integration of vampirism into the Civil War narrative is handled with similar grace. Some of this shit would border on offensive, were it all not so dumb. I mean, this is the kind of movie that boils down the Union’s Civil War victory to (*dumb spoiler alert?*) the delivery of a bunch of silver to the fields of Gettysburg between the first and second day of the famous battle, so the mostly-vampire Southern troops can actually be killed. That that last sentences reads as much more fun than it actually is to watch is a good primer for what the entirety of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is like.
If there’s anything kind to be said of the film, it’s that Benjamin Walker makes for a very solid lead and, along with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, may have been the only one involved in this production who actually understood the idea of tonal consistency. His Lincoln is earnest, warm, and comfortable being a badass, and Walker performs both older and younger Lincoln with a deftness the film can not match on any other level. Winstead too manages to imbue her Mary Todd Lincoln with a frankly unnecessary amount of grace and humor. Everyone else is pretty much terrible, or so sandbagged by the script that they seem terrible.
There’s no doubt that enough mood or mind-altering chemicals and like-humored friends could help one wring a decent time out of this pile of miscalculated shit, but even then the laughs will be forced and infrequent. As for our 16th President, I somehow have the feeling Lincoln’s honor and dignity will manage to endure beyond this slight, but please guys, can we collective decide to not support making this kind of shit a trend?
Out of a Possible 5 Stars