Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, adapted from the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, is as novel (see what I did there?) and as absurd as you probably expect it to be. It takes one of America’s most respected presidents, a dynamic man historically plagued by doubt and depression, and gives him another cause for his troubles that’s so ludicrous it somehow makes sense. In this wonderful foray into historical fantasy/alternative history, he is driven by vengeance against the vampire, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), who took his mother’s life, which is perhaps not the most original heroic motivation, but it does provide sufficient motivation for our protagonist in order to get the plot moving.
This 2012 film, adapted by its own author and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, is undoubtedly clever with its playfulness. And while there’s also plenty of misadventure and action to go around, with lots of Matrix-style slow motion wire fighting with plenty of CGI, the film does have its serious side. This is mainly in its love story.
No, no – it’s not a love story between some silly teenage girl and a disturbingly old vampire. That statutory sort of thing has been done to death…and to undeath (the trend really is quite troubling). No, this is a legitimate love story between Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) and the love of his life, Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). You see their social awkwardness while their eyes sparkle (not their skin) with the joy and excitement of young love. As the years wear on, you see them grow old and jaded by the trials and travails of the American Civil War…and their secret war (against the vampires). You see them through thick and thin, and you hear a lot of very quotable material. One of my favorites is attributed to Mary Todd Lincoln:
“I wouldn’t back away from what’s right just because it’s hard.”
That’s just a wonderful and succinct one-liner that feels good and builds character. One might even argue that it’s a very feel-good heroic American kind of thing to say.
At any rate, while interesting social commentary is certainly woven into the story (how can it not considering it’s set in the era of the American Civil War?), don’t expect to be too surprised or intellectually challenged – that’s not the focus of the film per se. Rather, at its heart, it is a fun monster movie and an excellent date movie with something for everyone, from action to romance to historical references. There’s even a dash of gore and nudity (seriously – you could blink and miss most of it!), so be prepared to cover your eyes if you’re bothered by that sort of thing.
Interestingly, the theme of duality and balance (or, perhaps, lack thereof) pervades the film, and is a vehicle to express the various struggles for the characters and, by extension, the human condition as a whole. There are free citizens and there are slaves. There are humans and there are monsters who wear the skins of humans. There is light and there is shadow. Good and evil. Love and hate. A public life, and a secret life.
Finally: sound. Sound is a primary element of the film used to great effect. Creaking boards, shattering glass, the cocking of guns, the rattling of chains, and more is put to expert use to build an atmosphere of suspense.
So the takeaway here is that, above all else, this is a movie where you’re practically guaranteed to have a lot of fun. So grab a friend and a big box of popcorn, and enjoy the show – you’re in for a treat!