It’s rare to see a movie without even a single moment of pause for drama, one that moves forward at such a quick pace that it doesn’t halt for even a second. “Poor pacing” is often attributed to films slower than they needed to be, but it can also be used for movies which move too quickly. Such is the case with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, although I’m not advocating character depth here; I’d just like a break or too to stop the relentless action.
If you laughed at the title of the film, I’m with you. I was expecting a silly low-budget action movie where Abraham Lincoln kills vampires, and while the latter most certainly happens — in spurts, at least — imagine my surprise when I read the film’s budget was almost $70 million. And that’s without a terribly expensive cast and crew, or the cutting edge when it comes to special effects. Where did that money go? You’ll have to ask someone else, because the film looks like its budget was about half of that. Also, it’s not funny, save for the initial premise.
What I’m saying is that despite an inherently humorous idea — reimagining one of the most important Presidents of the United States as someone who spends his nights killing vampires — the film is as serious and straight as it can be. No smiles, no winks at the audience, no ironic music choices, and not even a whole lot of over-the-top gore. Director Timur Bekmambetov took this idea and decided to make a serious a movie as he could. I don’t agree with this choice. Shouldn’t we be laughing with a movie like this?
The plot: Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) witnesses a man kill his mother as a child. Years later, he learns that this person was actually a vampire, and with the help of a man named Henry (Dominic Cooper), he learns how to kill vampires, and thus becomes the titular “vampire hunter.” At least, he does for a while, before deciding to go into politics. The action scenes die out at this point except for the climax, but the pacing doesn’t ever slow down. We just keep on trucking.
His reason for entering politics stems mostly from trying to end slavery, and also because the owners of the slave plantations turn out to be vampires, and the slaves are being used as a food source. So, the civil war primarily gets turned into a human vs. vampire battle. Plantation owners = vampires? That’s some biting social commentary there, movie. I’m probably giving away too much of the story here, but in a movie called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” does that really matter? There’s nothing here that’s a true spoiler and if you care that much about a plot, you’re not watching this movie in the first place.
Along the way, we get several action scenes, most of which have our hero slicing up various vampires with an axe. That’s about as creative as most of these things go. Lincoln turns out to be very good with an axe, but after a while, watching him swing it really fast and chop off heads gets dull. There’s one strong sequence with horses, but it’s surprising how boring this film actually is. That could be saved by humor or ironic enjoyment, but there’s little of both of those factors because of the film’s tone.
The film has a sense of style, I won’t deny that, although it almost feels as if that style was used in an attempt to hide some terribly clumsy transitions. Whole decades sometimes get skipped in a “stylish” scene transition, and we’re supposed to accept that because it looks kind of cool. That’s not how it works. Style over substance can work to some degree, but not when there’s almost no substance underneath the style.
It all also leads up to a gorgeous but dramatically unsatisfying climactic sequence aboard a train. Lincoln vs. the big bad, played by Rufus Sewell. Much of the film builds up to this moment, and then it’s just a big letdown. It’s over far too quickly, there’s little sense of danger, and it’s not even that creative. Being on top of a train means it always looks nice, and Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography doesn’t look any better in the film than in this sequence, but it just doesn’t work as the finale. The aforementioned horse scene was better.
I’m not sure if Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a movie an actor puts on their resume in hopes of getting more work. Benjamin Walker does a decent job keeping a straight face in the lead role, but that’s about all he’s required to do, and it might have been better if he did crack an occasional smile or joke. In supporting roles, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are completely wasted and forgettable. For their sakes, that’s probably ideal.
There’s a little bit of fun to be had from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but not enough to justify the time it takes to watch it. For the most part, it’s a dreary and dull film that you will have trouble enjoying legitimately or ironically. With a premise as silly as this one, it shouldn’t be played straight. It also needed more inventive action scenes and a break every now and then so that the relentlessly quick pacing could give us a breather.