Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
June 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

No kidding?

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is a one-joke premise that somehow manages to fall one joke short

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
20th Century Fox
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Marton Csokas
Rated R / 1 hour, 45 minutes
Opened June 22, 2012
(out of four)

Oh, I get it. So Timur Bekmambetov wants us to take Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seriously. Right.

OK, see the problem with that is, it's a movie about the most famous president in American history wielding an ax with which to decapitate vampires. So there's that. And see, the thing is, Timur, that's an intrinsically funny premise, what with the guy who delivered the Gettysburg Address facing off against an army of the blood-sucking undead and all. I mean . . . do you see where you went wrong with this? OK, when you read the plot synopsis . . . did you crack a smile, at least?

I don't think it's ever a good sign when an audience is waaay ahead of a filmmaker about his own film, but indeed we seem to be laughing at this movie much more often than we're laughing with it. And not because it's particularly terrible or anything, but because the situations themselves are ripe for humor - and we can see that even when Bekmambetov seemingly can't. So we laugh, even when what's actually on screen is being delivered to us in somber terms.

The film is not without moments of humor, but it has no inherently comedic qualities, nor any kind of humorous approach to its overall aesthetic. Nope, there are just bits of "comic relief" stuck in between the drama, no different from what we'd see in any other straight-faced action thriller.

Normally I'd say there's no right or wrong way to make a movie, and indeed maybe that's the argument in favor of this one. But you can't make a movie about Abe Lincoln fighting vampires without a heavy dose of absurdism and/or irony and/or satire, can you? Am I wrong? The reason is simple: The premise itself is funny. You actually have to do a lot of work to make it un-funny. Yet that's exactly what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tries to do. I'm not even asking for full-on parody here - just something that acknowledges the material for what it is. Can you imagine getting a primarily dramatic version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?* Or a dramatic version of Hot Tub Time Machine? Or how about a movie in which Gandhi brandishes a machete to do battle with Nazi werewolves? Ripe for the Merchant/Ivory treatment, is it?

*Coincidentally, the author of both the novel and screenplay of this movie, Seth Grahame-Smith, also penned the novel 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.' But if his 'Vampire Hunter' screenplay was intended to be funny, something, somewhere, went terribly wrong.

OK, so Vampire Hunter may not quite be aiming for Merchant/Ivory, but it ain't comedy, either. It takes a serious approach to a brazenly allegorical, supernatural retelling of the build-up to the Civil War, with only occasional (and brief) stretches of levity filling in the gaps. In other words, this movie is no fun. When it very well could have been a lot of fun. So it goes.

Ya know, maybe Bekmambetov and Steven Spielberg should have just combined their Lincoln projects and seen what kind of concoction came out of it. I'd certainly be game for watching a bearded, top-hatted Daniel Day-Lewis fight zombies and chew scenery at the same time. I'd pay for that twice. But I digress.

Our Lincoln this time around (just wait your turn, Daniel) is the utterly forgettable Benjamin Walker, who looks the part, but in the end doesn't really have much of a part to play.

As a boy, Abe witnesses the murder of his mother, and as he grows into adulthood his lust for vengeance festers until he finally seeks out the man responsible, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) - who, whoops, turns out to be a vampire. Abe is saved by a vampire bounty hunter named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who trains him in all things vampire-killing and eventually sends him off on assassination assignments, much to the chagrin of the odious vampire leader, Adam (Rufus Sewell).

The film weaves details of Lincoln's personal and political life into the fictional narrative, from his marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to his rivalry with Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk). That, too, seems like it would be a lot more interesting (and more entertaining) than it turns out to be on screen. Instead of taking the opportunity to use those details for effect - some effect, any effect - the filmmakers use them solely to further the plot, even in cases where a particular plot point doesn't really need furthering at all.

Anyone with a sense of humor and/or history can appreciate the absurd genius of a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Everyone, apparently, except the people who actually made the movie.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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