I have long been a fan of director Timur Bekmanbetov’s work. I was lucky enough to see his 2004 film Night Watch on the festival circuit that year and I was immediately taken by the visual styles and effects that Bekmanbetov brought to the screen. My admiration continued when Timur worked on his first English language film, Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. The film was hokey (a loom - really?) but the effects and action sequences were enough to drive the film to a $350 million worldwide gross.
I was excited then to see him attached to the adaptation of Seth Grahmae-Smith’s novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I hadn’t read the book, but just the idea behind the title and Bekmanbetov’s involvement were enough to ensure my opening week-end attendance.
The premise is neither complicated nor historical. The film opens with the introduction of a young Abraham Lincoln who witnesses his mother being bit and subsequently dying at the fangs of a vampire. We flash forward many years and Abe is a travelling assassin looking to bring justice to the undead blood sucker who took his mother’s life. But his first confrontation is more than what the young would-be President can handle and only thanks to the intervening of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) does he survive the encounter.
In a quick and forced moment during his recovery, Abe learns that there are countless vampires – particularly in the Southern United States – and he agrees to heed the advice and follow the rules of the knowledgeable Henry in an effort to help rid the world of vampires one blood sucker at a time.
Time continues to pass and we watch as Abe falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), becomes President of the United States and challenges both his constituents in abolishing slavery while strategizing against the vampire presence lead by head vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) and the deadly wonderful Vadoma (Erin Wasson).
Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter is being released in the highly contested summer blockbuster season so expectations for both a rewarding return on the production investment and a potential franchise are on the block. There is plenty of good in Timur’s tale to warrant praise. A scene where Abraham Lincoln and vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) chase and fight amongst a stampede of wild horses was a highlight. So too was a finale that included a speeding train and a wooden bridge set afire.
As the adult Abraham Lincoln, actor Benjamin Walker, is believable as an axe wielding vampire killer with a grudge to settle. But he doesn’t command the same dominant presence when the movie shifts to more of the political undertones of the 1800’s.
Unfortunately, the film has just as many negatives as it does positive to result in only a moderate recommendation. Henry Sturgess’ character is a tad underwritten, and the final confrontation between Abraham Lincoln and Sewell’s Adam is anti-climactic and over far too easily.
Many of the action sequences are well choreographed. But the slow-motion revolving camera technique that then speeds up right before a blow is administered is repeated a little too often and offers nothing new in terms action ingenuity.
It felt as if the final third of the film was dragging and at 105 minutes and I could have easily have suggested cuts in the editing room to chew off some fat. Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter therefore ends up being a bit of a disappointment. It boasted a $70 million production budget. It had Tim Burton listed as a Producer. And it had Timur Bekmanbetov at the helm and his unique vision in bringing action sequences to the large screen. But with all these factors combined, the movie failed to arouse anything in me outside of a mild understanding that my time was not completely wasted and I at least enjoyed my experience even if I wasn’t circling the internet search engines with high anticipation for a continuance in the story.