There are certain things you should expect to see in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – chief among them, the 16th President of the United States battling a blood-sucker or two. Beyond that, however, anything is possible, and audiences could just as easily anticipate a ridiculous historical spoof as a Civil War-era scare-fest or over-the-top action film.
And that's probably the biggest obstacle for the axe-happy adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's historical horror story, which can be surprisingly fun if you're on the same page as director Timur Bekmambetov when it comes to what type of film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is intended to be. If not, well... you just might start to sympathize with John Wilkes Booth.
Adapted for the screen by Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov (who also gave us 2008's visually stunning action flick Wanted and the equally eye-catching vampire films Night Watch and Day Watch), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter chronicles Lincoln's journey from innocent boy to axe-wielding, vampire-killing U.S. President. Relative newcomer Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln, who takes it upon himself to rid the world of the blood-sucking demons after witnessing his mother's death at the hands of a vampire. Along the way, he allies himself with sympathetic vamp Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), shopkeeper Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), and freed slave Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), who assist him in fighting alpha-vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell), a plantation owner whose pro-slavery stance has more to do with his gory appetites than the benefits of an indentured workforce.
And as anyone who's read Grahame-Smith's novel knows, the story weaves details of Lincoln's true life story together with an epic tale of one-man's secret war against the undead to the point where you find yourself wondering where the fiction ends and the facts begin.
Much like Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter offers a great example of Bekmambetov's talents as an architect of breath-taking visuals and Matrix-like action sequences that combine fluid, fast-paced choreography with an expert eye for digital flourishes. One particularly amazing set piece has Lincoln chasing after a vampire while navigating a massive herd of stampeding horses. As the pair ride, leap, and scramble their way through the galloping beasts, it's difficult to discern where the boundary is between live-action actors and digital creations, making for a wildly original sequence that combines much of what Bekmambetov does best.
While the film's first act is a bit slow to develop and occasionally crosses the line from clever to campy (including some unintentionally funny training scenes and a ridiculous montage of Abe practicing his axe-handling), once Abraham Lincoln is in full vampire-killing mode, the film really finds its groove. Walker does a fine job as Lincoln, and even when he evolves into the most familiar vision of the U.S. President – complete with top hat and chinstrap beard – he somehow manages to sell the character's dual life as political leader and monster slayer. It's a crazy, comic-book world that this version of Abraham Lincoln inhabits, and the film manages to skirt the edge of outright camp for much of its 105-minute running time.
Of course, that's not to say Abraham Lincoln's vampire-hunting adventure doesn't have a fair share of flaws, too. Lincoln and his vampire mentor Henry are the only characters that receive much attention from the script, leaving his other two associates, as well as the film's villains and even Mary Todd Lincoln herself, woefully underdeveloped. Why many of them are friends – or enemies – is never really explained, and the audience is simply expected to accept that one side is the good guys, one side is the bad, and they simply act accordingly.
Still, Bekmambetov and Grahame-Smith have done a wonderful job of making Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a film that manages to be both fun to watch and to put some research into after you leave the theater. The genius of Grahame-Smith's story carries over to the film, and you can't help but wonder which characters are based on real figures from U.S. history and how their real-life history shaped their role in Grahame-Smith's vampire tale.
In many ways, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is as much a piece of historical fiction as it is a classic, comic-book superhero story. While we probably won't see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter winning many awards, it can be a terribly fun, popcorn adventure if you have an idea what sort of film to expect. Rather than going all-in with any one genre, Abraham Lincoln manages to combine a little bit of everything into a funny, scary, and cheer-worthy adventure that somehow manages to make the 16th President of the United States a bad-ass action hero, capable of holding his own against just about anyone... or anything.
Heck, after watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov make a pretty strong case for “Honest Abe” to join the next iteration of The Expendables – and let's be honest, who wouldn't want to see vampire-killing Abraham Lincoln teamed up with Sylvester Stallone and Jet Li? Yes, I think I smell a sequel.