When I saw the trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the jaded, cynical bastard inside me was momentarily silenced and replaced by paroxysms of nerdy glee. Truth be told, I have a soft spot for monster films and the notion of a larger-than-life historical figure battling the spawn of Satan, kung fu style with the business end of an axe, promised to scratch a very peculiar yet persistent itch that I, and apparently a fair amount of others, could not satiate. There is something innately satisfying in the outright suspension of disbelief in the face of the overt ridiculousness of the premise; Indeed, I found it refreshing to see such a film green lit, especially in the gunmetal grey arena of samey action flicks that seem to saturate the market like so many infernal apple products. The stage was set, so to speak, for one hell of a story to unfold. I sincerely believe that Vampire Hunter could have stood proudly with the great cult hits like Blade and Army of Darkness.
It could have… but it didn’t.
Vampire Hunter takes a few cues from that Max Brooks school of storytelling in the sense that the whole “monsters are real” concept is conducted in a completely straight faced manner. In the case of Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, this more serious approach actually facilitates the creation of an immersive and believable world. Vampire Hunter, however, fumbles the concept so badly that it smashes through floorboards as it flies from its uncoordinated hands. There comes a point when a deadpan portrayal of otherwise unbelievable events ceases to be interesting and instead begins to be viciously irritating. The plot of the film is so ludicrous that it would have been a much wiser decision to just acknowledge how insane it actually is and perhaps even poke fun at it a few times over the course of the film.
From the beginning, the plot takes off at a blistering pace and the damned thing doesn’t slow down for the duration of its nearly tortuous 1 hour and 45 minutes. Vampire Hunter is a film with no concept of pacing whatsoever. The story moved along so fast that I was hard pressed to keep up and the constant jumping from sequence to sequence left me wondering “what just happened?” This might have been excused if character motivations and development weren’t such an important piece of the film. For instance, Lincoln swears eternal vengeance on the man who kills his mother, who we see for a grand total of two minutes. I believe that, especially in a film about revenge, we as an audience must be made to understand why we should care about the characters and why we should identify with their plight. The film seems to take for granted that we actually give a damn about Lincoln’s darling mother when the old woman gets killed off within the first five minutes of the film. Likewise, when Lincoln meets a pale faced man with a stupid haircut who identifies himself as Henry Sturges, he tells Lincoln that it wasn’t a man that killed his mother, but (gasp!) a vampire. It takes Lincoln about 4 seconds to fully and unquestioningly believe in something that he had been told since birth was a myth. What’s more, the film jumps from Lincoln scraping out a living as a store clerk to giving speeches advocating the abolition of slavery with no transition whatsoever. Instances like this can be found throughout the film. The action jumps from Lincoln doing a completely unrelated thing, presumably engaging in the hunting of vampires, to a shot of him looking very moody behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. These arbitrary jumps in time make the film feel schizophrenic and unfocused, to say nothing of a lack of continuity. For a film that takes itself so seriously, it’s this kind of inconsistency that breaks the experience for me.
The exasperatingly out-of-place seriousness of tone comes across in the acting as well. Lincoln delivers almost every line in the same gritty monotone as though one of the vampires had just insulted his mother off screen. Overall, I found the acting to be extremely lackluster all around with only a semblance of emotional complexity from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln (It was a delight to see Winstead again though, whose only other role I’m familiar with was Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, forever earning her a special place in my black, shrunken heart.)
But who cares about the acting when the real moneymaker is the action, right? Well prepare yourselves for another disappointment. The action sequences, usually filled with Lincoln slicing and dicing confederate vampires to gooey bits, is so shaky and unfocused that it’s almost as if the director took out his camcorder, pointed it vaguely in the direction that action was happening, and flung it across the room only to sprint to where the battered device lay and repeat the procedure ad nauseam. Bizarrely enough, Lincoln’s kung fu axe wielding badassery is completely straight faced too! The action occasionally drops down into slow-mo for about a quarter of a second which was just long enough for my brain to register a geyser of blood spouting from a freshly created neck stump and Lincoln’s ugly mug grimacing into the camera like he just got blood on his new shoes. Multiple times during the film, I had to stop and ask myself what the hell was going on because I honestly could not register the muddled action sequences into coherent thoughts. Not only that, but the CG is some of the worst I’ve seen in a long time, which in this day in age is near unforgivable. It’s not as though this was a low budget production either; according the film’s Wikipedia page, Berkmambetov had a whopping $69,000,000 to make this film! What in God’s name were they doing with the money? Having incredibly extravagant pool parties?
Vampire Hunter quickly went from being one of my most anticipated films to a journey into disappointment and failure. I suppose I may recommend the film to someone who has been recently lobotomized and who needs some flashing lights to occupy their attention for a few hours or to a steampunk fetishist in need of a quick fix, and if it’s the latter you’d probably be better off watching Wild Wild West again.
Rating: 2 out of 5