Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Alternate history isn’t a new concept by any means, but I’m telling you to prepare for much more of it. Hollywood only needs to see a success story once before the cashing in begins. The possibilities are endless when you think about it. There’s certainly an audience for Jimmy Carter: Demon Killer, Alexander Graham Bell: Occult Assassin, or Ronald Reagan: The Frankenstein Years. While we’re on the topic of ridiculous concepts, let’s talk about the negative reviews for this movie. If you aren’t a huge horror enthusiast that gets the kitschy appeal of ALVH, why did you bother seeing this? Maybe you just wanted to give something a bad review and thought this was a sure thing. I hate to read reviews from people who apparently have no idea what they’re stepping into. Would any of you take me seriously if I wrote a review for Sex in the City and trashed the designer dresses? Same thing.
I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. I really liked the book, and that was a shocker from the word go. My first experience with this piece of horror alternate history was a good one. The trick this film needed to pull off was selling this premise for more than the first 30 minutes. If you make it to the third act, then you really invested in this. Never relying on cheesy one-liners or the parameters afforded to it, ALVH takes itself as seriously as it possibly can. I promise you this isn’t full of self-indulgent vampire decapitations followed by lines like “Fourscore and seven HEADS ago..” You wouldn’t think subtlety a strength for a film like this, but you might leave surprised.
The taxing responsibility of this nicely adapted movie is all on Honest Abe’s (Benjamin Walker) wide shoulders. Riding the line between bad ass and humble, Walker delivers a very likeable Abraham Lincoln. The guy looks the part and then some, invoking images of a young Liam Neeson. Abe makes his fateful enemy in the opening minutes of the film as our future president defends his black friend, Will Johnson. Stirring the ire of a local vampire slave lord, Abe eventually loses his mother for his vocal uprising. Insert our protagonist’s prime mover: revenge. Once he gets older he decides to pursue his vengeance, little does Abe know he’s about to take on a real life vampire, something he (like most people) considers to be a myth. Seeing is believing when it comes to vampires. If you shoot a dude in the face at close range and he gets up…well, there’s concrete proof in my book. Meet Henry Sturgiss (Dominic Cooper), a trained vampire hunter who takes the fledgling leader under his wing. Abe is warned to never love, never have friends or family, just leave them out of it because sooner or later a vampire is going to bring misery to your life. Abe agrees under false pretense and his future is secured.
ALVH delivers some awesome action scenes, and it had better. If you put Bekmambetov in charge of directing your horror-action movie, you better be able to pick those scenes out of a lineup. The two big action scenes, a crazy fight that takes place in the middle of a full-blown horse stampede, and a gripping over-the-top runaway train climax; both had me hook, line, and sinker. The guy can direct an action scene. The rest of the movie is great for capturing atmospheric shots of Honest Abe as a death dealer. His merit is tested time and time again, all beautifully captured in fantastic looking pre-civil war America. The opening scenes show our current capital under Abe’s narrative, the camera rotates a full 360 degrees and rewinds the construction progress of everything from the Washington Monument to the White House. Very cool.
I was born in KY and moved to central Illinois as a kid, so I was loving all the attention to detail between my native KY and old home near Springfield, IL. Take that and mix horror elements into the already amazing life of our 16th President; the result is a nostalgic and engaging good time. My only complaint was the laborious third act. Abe shifts from a full-time hunter to a politician and eventual President, but the story lags as we pass all the humps on the way to the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg. I realize a lot of non-action drives the plot here, and that’s not even my beef. It just feels like it takes forever to get to the inevitable end of the Civil War. I can get past that though – there was a lot going on in America at that time. One thing I absolutely did love, was the amount of historical fact woven into this vampire mythology. Mary Todd is a great asset to the film, and she plays a great role in the Underground Railroad when it comes to our American-Vampire history. This movie would have sucked so badly if history and fantasy didn’t merge so well.
If Abe was alive to see this movie today, I’m sure he would be curious if not flattered, but his real contribution is clearly seen in President Obama. Lincoln fought tirelessly with something worse than fictional vampires; he fought against slavery, against oppressive humanity at its worst. Remembering this great man’s accomplishments added such a cool vibe for me. Like I said earlier, Walker sold this movie for me. I feel like I have to save the filmmakers another terrible review here, so unless your mind can suspend disbelief for two hours, just skip this movie. If you accept this unique horror entry for what it is – I think you’ll enjoy Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It made me want to buy an axe and learn some bad ass moves.