When we think back on the history of the United States of America and its 16th President, Abraham Lincoln (played by the soon-to-be star Benjamin Walker), a few things come to mind: height, soaring speeches, unabashed honesty, emancipation, greatness, iconic, tragic death… but… highly- skilled monster vanquisher? Not so much. However, in the recently released blood-soaked, horror thriller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (AL:VH for the remainder because that’s a friggin’ long ass title) we’ll freeze our disbelief for the cause and a great time in the midst of a blazing summer’s ultra-cool flick.
Based on the popular work of fiction (did we really need that disclaimer… smh) from author Seth Grahame-Smith, who claimed to have been given a secret diary kept by the 16th POTUS by Lincoln’s vampire cohort Henry Sturges, played brilliantly here by the über-talented Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, Captain America: The First Avenger). After a young Lincoln watches as his mother is brutally, virally murdered by a slave-driving vampire, Jack Barts (Martin Csokas), in her sleep – due to a debt owed by his family – the young boy sets out with his detached father (who lies to him, telling Lincoln she was poisoned) to live out the rest of his life with a big chip on his high shoulder. In his early diary entires, he vows to kill as many vampires as he can… and eventually will.
Fast forward to a teenage Lincoln (17-18), one who attempts to get at Barts at the docks but bites off more than he can chew and takes a nice little beating from the monster, who reveals his nature fully via some nasty, gory FX work (which is all pretty phenomenal throughout, more on this in a bit). Back up a bit – all this after Lincoln initially lures him in and puts a buckshot in his right eye. As he begins to depart, Barts rises quietly and attacks him again from off screen (which warrants a seat jump) and is about to kill him before Sturges shows up and intervenes, sending Barts flying in another awesome slow-motion FX blast. Thus begins their relationship. In short, Sturges reveals to Lincoln that vampires do exist, all descendants of a vampire named Adam (Rufus Sewell) and that he is also a crusader for good. Eventually, Lincoln persuades Sturges to teach him the ways of a vampire slayer (think Buffy, but far more masculine and WAY darker) so that he may dish vengeance to his mother’s killer.
We watch as Lincoln sets out in Springfield, friendless and alone, as an assassin of sorts, being sent marks by Sturges that he is sanctioned to eliminate. Little do we know that Sturges has an agenda of his own (one we won’t give away here). In the midst of his missions Lincoln befriends (against his employers wishes) his employer Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and reconnects with childhood friend, former slave and Underground Railroad hero, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie). He also manages to become romantically connected with his future wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and create a political lane for himself after a close-call with death causes him to rethink his future as a hunter. Guess he managed to work out his “chip” after brutally killing 7-8 vampires with a silver tipped axe – one he’s quite handy with, might I add. It’s pure, visceral fun watching a young Lincoln in his prime wielding an axe and chopping off the heads of his would-be killers. Blood and entrails fly left, right and off the screen. BTW, check this out in 3D – even with the conversion – its easy to see that director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) set this film up for the otherwise gimmicky format, despite not having given the 3D cameras a whirl. We thought with this being such a dark film (via the surprisingly beautiful cinematography) the glasses might serve as a hindrance, but we were in fact mistaken. The 3D lent itself well, especially to the heightened action.
It proved interesting and fun, being somewhat of a history buff, watching as the major beats in Lincoln’s stint happen, while the reasoning behind each one is altered for the sake of story. Each event in his life was accurately portrayed, the fictitious portions being the secret diary entries serving as the catalysts. We loved the way the two elements were intertwined, making history more fun than it actually is. Hey, we probably slept through a few minutes of a class or two… don’t act as though you were wide-eyed through every single one. The performances are great (even though we feel Sewell was underutilized), the story is fun and the action/effects are both top-notch. We should note that relative newcomer Benjamin Walker does a stellar job as the war-torn, national hero and you should expect to see him around a lot more as this should catapult his career. Go in expecting to see some incredibly far-reaching, ridiculous moments and save the criticisms and Oscar-calibur stuff for Spielberg’s Lincoln bio-pic starring Daniel Day Lewis. This one is killer and makes an already amazingly cool POTUS even cooler.