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John’s Horror Corner: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

June 23, 2012

MY CALL: I never thought I’d appreciate my 5th grade Civil War history lessons.  They paid off well in gory fun that was well worth the wait.  This should entertain.  [C, but a B+ for pure entertainment value].  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  I have no suggestions for you other than the not-so-similar The Brotherhood of the Wolf.  If you have any ideas, please post them in a comment below.

 Director Timur Bekmambetov is a veteran of exaggerated action and genre-splitting fang flicks, having directed Night Watch (2004), Day Watch (2006) and Wanted (2008).  In addition to some of those he has produced The Darkest Hour (2011), Apollo 18 (2011) and the possible Wanted 2 (????).  He picks weird projects and visually supplements them in unexpected and often impressive (though also often ridiculous) ways.  He’s a creative guy and, in general, I’m pleased with his work—including his latest: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Young Abe.

Our story begins by weaving motive.  Young Abraham witnesses the death of his mother at the hand of a vampire.  From that day into adulthood, Abraham (Benjamin Walker in his first major role and looking like a young Liam Neeson) seeks revenge against that vampire, but hates them all.

The more stately, aged, axe-wielding Abe.

Honest Abe is trained by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper; The Devil’s Double, Captain America: The First Avenger), who is as un-Yoda-like as it gets complete with rigid rules, a temper and a penchant for exterminating all vampires.  One must wonder why.  Of course, there’s a story there, the explanation of which would spoil the movie.  He is backed by his best friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie; The Adjustment Bureau, Real Steel), a freeborn black man who has some unexplained skill for martial arts (in a time when it was generally unknown to the West) and axe-spinning (even though he lacked Sturgess’ Jedi tutelage).

 

Abe marries Mary Todd (Scream Queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead; The Thing), with whom he shares a life veiled from the truth behind his night life and political ambitions.  In fact, this is where knowing some simple history gets fun.  You’ll grin as you see political campaigns and war tactics steered by anti-vampire stratagem.

 

Our vampiric antagonist is effectively portrayed by professional villain Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale, The Illusionist).  As Adam, the 5000-year old maker of all vampires, Sewell is cold and enjoyably hatable.  He leads the Confederate vampires of the South in their invasion of the North in the Civil War.  His personal cadre enjoys the bedazzling company of Vadoma (played by newcomer/model Erin Wasson, who already looked rather vampy before doing this movie).  She plays her simple part well and I hope to see more of her in more challenging roles.

Here, the sultry Erin Wasson is all vamped up for her scene.

 

And here, the sexy Wasson is all vamped up just because it’s Tuesday in Hollywood.  Sexy, yes.  But also cold as ice–like into those man-eating eyes.

The movie ends with a brief present day scene which smacks of Interview with a Vampire’s “I’m going to give you the choice that I never had.”  An endearing nod, but not without a little eye-rolling to accompany my acknowledgement—not that this was the only time in the movie when that happened.

 THE SETS:  Now, I only noticed this because I always ask myself “now how do I feel about the cinematography and set design”—but I was largely unimpressed with both (excluding some action sequence work, though).  Had I not been looking for it, I might not have noticed most of the time.  The scenes were still effective and I don’t think too many people will wish they got more from this department unless, again like me, they specifically look for it.

 To be, or not to be, in 3D:  I saw this in 3D, and it wasn’t until the second act action scenes that I sensed that this might have been filmed in 3D.  There was just something about the first act’s movement, zooming and background that felt a bit untidily modified-from-2D-to-3D.  As it turns out, I saw the HBO making of special and noticed the same stale, artificial focus and contrast during zooming in 2D.  However, once the second act action begins, you see that the action was clearly made (and well made) for 3D.  It’s just that the 3D felt like a natural improvement for some scenes, but actually obscured trademark scenes like the one-swing-tree-splitting when compared to HBO’s (and the TV trailer’s) much crisper 2D presentation.  One scene really didn’t fit in 2D or 3D, and that’s the “stampede fight.”  When you see this, everything is so obscured by choppy focus and lazy-hazy blurred CGI that you wonder if they ran out of budget and then realized “Hey guys, we still need to do the Stampede Fight.” 

My final decision: I’d vote to see this in 3D.

 

He must’ve been working out with Sosa and McGuire.

THE ACTION:  After witnessing his tree-splitting training and some impressive axe-spinning flair I’m reminded of Ray Parks’ work as the headless horseman (Sleepy Hollow) and Darth Maul (The Phantom Menace).  The action starts somewhere in the middle; it’s very blood-letty, fast-paced and entertaining, but also filmed very close up such that you see very little.  So I was quite entertained while also wishing it was done differently.  But during this first act of the movie the events, build-up and consequence were more important than the fights themselves.  Whereas in the second act elaborately choreographed and CGI-enhanced scenes spew gore, sever limbs, and add complex acrobatics from a wide angle allowing full realization of intricate marriages between combat choreographers and CGI engineers.  The sets were more open, much as were for many of Neo’s fights in the 2nd and 3rd Matrix movies, which allowed more freedom in planning grandiose maneuvers with more combatants.  There’s even a healthy dash of post-impact slo-mo (a la 300 or The Immortals) as caped bodies and weapons corkscrew through the air about trailing cascades of black blood.  Very well done indeed.  The action shifts gears yet again for the third act (with a more aged Lincoln) and include a Western-style train action sequence and Civil War battle scenes.  There’s a good deal of unrealistic skill and precision which hemorrhages absurdity this flick, but I found myself not minding a bit despite some playful Oh-come-ons.

 

In the spirit of The Matrix this flickcomes complete with jumping flip kicks…

Gratuitous jumping, spinning, 720-degree double-axe to the face moves…

And hits so hard that you’ll corkscrew flair through the air for so long that Abe will have time to wind up again and cut off your head.

THE STORY:  This movie succeeded where many failed in utilizing a multi-story-style 3-act model.  What do I mean?  I mean The Brotherhood of the Wolf model.  Each act of The Brotherhood of the Wolf felt like a different movie—it began with a period piece mystery, shifted to a large-scale action-driven phase, and then finished as a somewhat supernatural revenge flick, any one of which could have been its own stand-alone film.  Movies that try to do too much (like this) often fail.  In Abraham Lincoln we have a plotty origin story, followed by a more typical vampire hunter choreography-driven flick, and ended with an aged Abe and a politico-military historical piece where period mattered and fights took place in less martial arts-friendly venues.  Again, any one of these parts could have been the vampire-gnawed blood and guts of a whole separate movie. 

While on paper, the concept must sound like it skirts lunacy, this exercise in absurd fantasy-horror-war-history hybridization comes off as a great summer action flick.  You’ll be surprised at how seriously you’ll take it—as if hypnotized by some True Blood glamour.  So I say see it.  Be glamoured and dazzled.  Enjoy.

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