Every so often a film comes along that challenges the conventional views of history, seeking to convey “the other side” of what happened, forcing viewers to consider what is meant by the old maxim, “history is written by the victors” and compelling them to reevaluate what they believe.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is no such film.
ALVH is the tale of good old Honest Abe’s life, more or less from cradle to grave, and the forces that truly shaped him into the man that would come to be known primarily for breaking chains and “preserving” the unity of the States of America.
Despite the ethical nuances of the actual epoch, the South’s role here is sheer stock villainy: ambition without morality, evil without conscience. Vampires are a convenient and thinly veiled representation of something relentlessly bad and in need of (permanent) death, and little effort is made to actually explore true Confederate motivations.
The thirty seconds or so of slave-whipping that open the film are the only insight into American slavery we are given, which would be fine were it not for the fact that the movie’s central motif (if you can call something so sloppily developed a motif) is freedom versus slavery. Rather than responsibly explore this theme and cause viewers to truly empathize with the conflict, the makers of ALVH instead tell us “See him? He’s the bad guy. Root against him!” and then the question is dropped, never to be raised again. I guess Southern’s the new Nazi.
The nonchalance with which morality is dealt in the film is frankly saddening. The central conflict is predicated on the idea that the entire empire of slavery in the antebellum South was founded by vampires as a ruse for keeping themselves well-fed, and no doubt the potential for subtle, clever metaphor is here: empowered, wealthy, white Europeans surviving off the blood of the enslaved.
But nothing about this movie is subtle. It is blunt, blundering, and borderline pretentious. It feels as if two relatively baked teenagers were out toking in a log cabin and one of them said “DUDE! What if, like, Abe Lincoln cut vampires’ heads off with an ax that was also a gun and stuff?!” and his friend was like “WICKED!” and then they went ahead and made that movie, without really considering whether the historical details could fit or whether that was the kind of idea you could stretch over two hours without losing an audience.
Alas, with its driving force stretched so thinly, no act seems to carry any real weight. The ones that might have are so predictable that by the time the film gets to the reveal you’ve just been sitting there tapping your foot impatiently waiting for it to arrive. Meanwhile, everything is so hopelessly melodramatic that it’s difficult to tell whether the acting or the writing is more at fault. You’re unlikely to experience any of the emotions the makers of this film seem to have hoped for you to experience; if you do, it certainly won’t be at the time they intended for you to feel them.
Before watching this film, I happened to comment to my father that I hoped it would be entertaining, at which point he asked if it was a comedy. I told him “it has to be, because taking a premise like this seriously would be ludicrous.” And yet after viewing I’m not quite sure it was meant to be a comedy. I never really felt like I was supposed to be laughing at the times I found myself doing so. Elsewhere came that awkward stomach drop one experiences when a person you feel bad for has just told an absolute bomb of a joke and it took you all a moment to realize it had been meant to amuse in the first place.
Stylistically, I think my father put it best: “It’s like The Matrix meets Twilight.” Or perhaps, more accurately, it’s like The Matrix Revolutions meets New Moon. Painfully dull conversations fill the moments in between a ton of slow-motion/quick-cut-editing of rather awful CG and green-screening scenes meant to pass for action. At some point you’re struck by the realization that not only did the filmmakers think “this is awesome!” but they expected you to agree with them.
To be fair, no one will see this movie expecting it to be brilliant. The aforementioned self-awareness comes with the pretty obvious caveat that we’re aiming for low-hanging fruit here. Still, what we have in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a case of identity crisis, a movie too ridiculous to be serious but too serious to be truly ridiculous. If meant as a joke, it’s not nearly funny enough; if not, it’s far too laughable. I don’t know for sure what these filmmakers were aiming to accomplish, but I feel comfortable in saying they failed to do so.
Final Word: The trailer for this movie is about as good as it gets. Watch that if you must, and then if you’re still jonesing for a vampire flick this week, skip ALVH and rent Twilight. You’ll regret it less.