Certain elements are necessary for a good movie: It must have a plot, a story to tell; it can be simple or complex, but it must go somewhere, otherwise it’s a painting, not a motion picture. Second, a good movie must have at least one character in it that is so compelling and that the audience likes enough to care what happens to him/her/it. Third, it must evoke a mood. The mood can be claustrophobic, epic, dark, comic—any of a number of emotions, and the mood can (and in particularly good movies will) shift and change. Timur Bekmambetov’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” lacks all three of these elements.
While original, the “story” is absolutely static. We all know the basics of Abraham Lincoln’s biography: his mother died when he was a boy; he was self-taught and ambitious; he was morally opposed to slavery; he became President and fought to hold the United States together during the Civil War. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” adds only that one element from the title. His mother was killed by a vampire, so young Abe plots revenge. Secretly, he enlists the aid of a mentor to train him how to kill vampires and does so for some time until he believes he can better help the country in the world of politics. He becomes President, but the vampires threaten the nation as well, and so he resumes his role as vampire hunter.
That’s about it. A clever concept that if done with wit and panache, could have been an entertaining movie. But the script, written by the author of the book by the same name, Seth Graham-Smith (“Dark Shadows”) has no dialogue worth remembering, nor any characters worthy of our compassion. Only one scene, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“The Thing”) as Mary Todd Lincoln, has any heartfelt emotion: when her child dies, (killed by vampires of course), Mary alternates from despondent grief to wistful hope that another vampire can resurrect her son, to justified rage at her husband for encouraging the vampiric retribution that took his life. The other actors are all ciphers: Benjamin Walker (“Coach”) as Lincoln elicits no sympathy; indeed he is not shrewd politician nor devout moralist/idealist, nor loving family man, and is not the least bit interesting. Rufus Sewell (“The Tourist”) plays the originating vampire Adam as a boring brooder that we neither hate as a murderous monster nor admire as a progenitor and protector of his race; he’s like a skunk: striking to look at, and you really don’t want him around, but you can’t condemn him for being what he is.
The direction of Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) is perhaps even more to blame for this monstrosity. He very obviously had a huge budget to work with: magnificent sets and costumes dominate the movie. But the action sequences (something essential for a movie with vampires) fall completely flat. Lincoln wields his trademark axe like a samurai when practicing, yet in the clinch always fails to decapitate his foes as intended. Bekmambetov utilizes the now old-hat 360 degree slo-mo camera for the fight scenes in a woefully redundant fashion. The Civil War battle scenes are obviously computer images and bear no resemblance to actual tactics used in that conflict. What should be the two big climactic scenes (a fight amid a herd of stampeding horses and hand-to-hand combat atop a train moving across an impossibly long and high burning trestle) are so awful as to be unintentionally hilarious.
Graham-Smith and Bekmambetov doom this movie to the fate of the undead. No story develops. No characters are compelling. Most importantly, no mood is struck. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” could have been campy, or exciting, or scary, or gruesome, or even philosophical. But it is none of these. It is as dull as a rusty axe.