Friday, June 22, 2012

First Impression: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Timur Bekmambetov brought us the fantastic films Night Watch and Day Watch and returns to the theme of vampires in his adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The film is, of course, an alternate history and as such more aspects of Lincoln’s life, beyond his slaying of vampires, are changed (including how many children he had) but the purist should take the film and story for what it is without getting hung up on biographical details. The film is not designed to be an accurate biopic, it is designed to be fun and that is exactly what it is.

Starting when Abe was young (Played young by Lux Haney-Jardine) we see him intervening when a man, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), is handing (what I assumed to be) the parents of Abe’s friend Will (played young by Curtis Harris) over as slaves despite the fact that they are free. Barts whips at Will, missing the floored Abe, but as it is Abe’s father (Joseph Mawle) intervenes. Barts sacks Thomas Lincoln and demands payment of monies owed, when payment is refused he suggests there is more than one way to extract payment.

The night Abe is in the roof space not yet sleeping when Barts enters the family cabin. Through a crack in the boards Abe sees the man take the arm of Abe’s mother (Robin McLeavy) and, as he transforms into a monster and goes to bite her wrist, the young boy bolts back from his vantage point. The next day his mother is dying of some form of illness, something the doctor can’t recognise or treat and she dies. The turning rules in the film are not brilliantly explained. It seems that a bite will poison and kill the victim but the victim doesn’t necessarily come back. Later we hear that a pure soul won’t turn but then an offer is made to turn an innocent child already poisoned by a vampire bite. Clarity would have been nice.

Abe grows up (and is played as an adult by Benjamin Walker). He promised his father that he wouldn’t do anything stupid (in other words go after Barts) but after his father dies he feels freed from the promise. He gets drunk – noticed by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who suggests that a young man only gets drunk like that for two reasons, to approach a girl or kill a man – and goes after Bart. His pistol fails and he ends up hold up in a shed whilst he tries to reload his pistol. He manages to shoot Bart in the eye but the body vanishes and he is attacked again (later we see that Abe destroyed his eye, which is replaced by the pistol’s ball, no regeneration seems to occur). Sturgess saves him and trains the young man to be a vampire hunter.

Sturgess is a vampire himself – something Abe does not discover until later – and he recruits vampire hunters as a vampire cannot kill another vampire… only the living can kill the dead. Vampires have a problem with sunlight, but the development of a sun screen has enabled them to go out into the day. Whether they should have just dropped the whole sunlight aspect, as it never comes into play, is debatable. So, rather than sunlight, the method of killing vampires seems to be decapitation or through the use of silver (silver bullets seem very efficient). The silver is given its power due to the association of 30 pieces of silver and the betrayal of Christ (though little else religious seems to come into play). Abe’s weapon of choice is an axe, the edge of which has been silvered. We see Abe chop a tree with an axe blow and the action is very much over the top.

Yet that over-the-top action is where the film really works. Abe is cast, essentially, as a super-hero and whilst he hasn’t powers, as such, the fighting skills are well above normal. It is this over-the-top action that carries the story and gives it its pace, and is ultimately the downfall of the film in its middle passage. The film drops the action – as Abe and Henry fall out and Abe enters politics with the aim of the abolition of slavery and marries Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). This is necessary story wise but the change of pace drags a little. Fear not, the action will return for the finale.

Readers may recall a criticism I have of action sequences is the use of jerky, wobbly cameras, a technique that seems to hide any lack of confidence in a director’s ability to shoot action. Bekmambetov uses no such techniques and the action is fantastic. He does use effects a hell of a lot but that just fits in with the almost comic book feel of the film.

I really enjoyed this. Was it a great piece of cinema art? Of course not but it was a great comic-book-style action film that (despite dragging its heels a little in the middle) was great fun. Not as complex or thought provoking as Bekmambetov’s Watch films it was, nevertheless, brimming with style.

EDIT: After re-watching on DVD I think I should score this at 7.5 out of 10. Great fun.

The imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

Nice review. I pretty much agree with you, although I didn't really feel like there was anything slow about the middle. Actually, the movie is not really like the book, which is much more faithful to Lincoln's actual historical life, and in that way it was a bit disappointing, but there were some fun changes to the story too. The biggest disappointment was Henry, who was a far different character in the book (but that being said, Dominic Cooper was the perfect choice for the character, his description in the book IMMEDIATELY brought Dominic Cooper to mind for me.)There were some terrific action scenes added into the story that made it more fun (except for the horse scene, that was just pretty much unnecessary and ridiculous). Overall a good film I thought. Perhaps it is selfish of me to want historical accuracy to an alternate history story like this, but I was bothered by accents, phrases that did not fit the period, and modern concepts and themes undermining the historical relevance, but that is probably expecting too much. I think the book had me expecting a lot more from the film. I blame the book for my high expectations, and I'm still waiting to hear what you think of it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Margaret...

I really will have to get the book read (I was actually lent the book and Clark, who lent it, mentioned yesterday that I hadn't read it... but I've only had hold of it for two years).

Without the book background I had no real expectations, which did help I think.

Accents are a funny old thing, if you know which accents are relevent to an area it can become an issue and I can remember some online complaints re True Blood and the nuances of accents from that area of the States, which to someone not versed in said nuances meant little. So I fully appreciate why that might have bothered you.

good to hear from you and I will read the book soon... I promise :)

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Taliesin_ttlg said...

Kelly, your comment has been deleted as SPAM... if you want to leave it again, without a product link, feel free to do so

LoBo said...

I only made part through the film. Nothing interesting happend and i didn't like the look of the vampires. I was not impressed by the action scenes. Disappointing film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

well, I think we'll agree to disagree on this one Lobo - but that is the great thing about the genre, isn't it, its so wide we couldn't possibly all like the same films :) Cheers, as always, for the comment