Monday 23 October 2017

Vampire tale doesn't have much bite

Paul Whitington

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(15A, general release, 105 minutes)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov Stars: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead


A film with a hugely promising title, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on a recent novel by Seth Grahame-Smith and takes certain liberties with historical fact. Or does it?

According to Grahame-Smith's book and this Timur Bekmambetov film, Abe Lincoln was, among his many other accomplishments, a fearsome and dedicated vampire hunter.

Lincoln lost his mother when still a small boy: according to this feverish account it was a scheming vampire called Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) who killed her, inspiring in the lad an obsession with revenge.

When Abraham (Benjamin Walker) grows up, he sets out to kill Barts but finds that conventional bullets cannot do the job, and gets beaten to within an inch of his life.

He's rescued by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a dissipated gent who's dedicated his life to hunting the vampires that plague the southern states, and urges Abe to join him in his fight.

Coached by Sturges, Lincoln becomes alarmingly handy with a silver-headed axe, and strikes out for Illinois to root out embedded vampires.

A hater of vampires, Abe is also no lover of slavery, and as a bit of a sideline enters politics, becomes US President and unleashes a high-minded civil war.

But the bloodsuckers remain the real enemy, particularly Barts and one Adam (Rufus Sewell), who is the vampires' leader.

In Grahame-Smith's universe, vampires have been the primary defenders of slavery, which allows them to set up plantations run by black slaves, who then form a regular food source.

And they also fight for the Confederacy in all-vampire regiments that prove a tricky proposition in the field.

All of this daftness had a certain cinematic potential, particularly if approached with imagination and wit.

Indeed, some fun could have been had gently debunking the historical sacred cow that is Abraham Lincoln.

That's certainly not what happened though, because Bekmambetov's film is one of the more moronic and ugly-looking studio studio films I've seen in a while.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the unfinished, half-baked feel of films like Jonah Hex, a 2009 disaster that squandered the potential of an equally interesting story.

Despite this film's respectable enough $70m budget, the effects look cheap and are incessant.

And Walker makes a fairly forgettable Lincoln, whose spectacularly inane everyday conversation suggests that all those great speeches must have been ghostwritten.

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