You can never tell a book by its cover, but every so often, you can read the title of a movie and know exactly what you are getting yourself into. That is very much the case with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film that takes the historical fiction genre and really takes it out for a spin to every sense of the imagination.
Director Timur Bekmambetov sets up the film in a recap format. It is because Abraham Lincoln, played in his adult form by Benjamin Walker, kept a day-to-day diary of his secret double life, and told no one else and made no other record of the tale. It begins when Lincoln was but a young lad growing up in Indiana. His father worked an honest job alongside freed slaves in the north. One night, a vampire comes calling, and takes the life of his mother, prompting him to seek revenge. However, Lincoln is ill-prepared to take the life of the undead and is quickly overwhelmed and nearly killed by his target. He is saved by Henry, played by Dominic Cooper, a strangely super-powered fighter who seems more than capable of dispatching the undead. He begins to train the future president in the ways of hunting, fighting and destroying vampires.
Of all fantasy creatures, vampires have some of the most protected and revered mythos. This film makes a few original takes on the creatures – using alchemy and prescriptions to be able to go out into the daylight, vampires are unable to kill one another, vampires leave corpses instead of turning to ash – yet they are still treated with respect and the dignity of the original Stoker novel. They are led by one named Adam, played by Rufus Sewell, and although he may not have the regal mannerisms of Dracula, is still a terrifying yet charming, sophisticated leader of the undead armies.
Under the guise of wanting to keep slavery, the armies of vampires are planning to overtake the entire country and make the new world their own. The movie does an amazing job of adding the fantasy of its story in perfectly with the historical aspects of the film. Lincoln’s coming to the presidency, his background and even the Civil War is all completely and intricately sewn into the fabric of the vampire slaying. The writer of the original novel, Seth Grahame-Smith, is also the lead writer of the screenplay for the film, and the writing is done amazingly well as a result.
The effects and the visuals in the movie are astounding. All of the technology of the time fits in perfectly without any glaring inaccuracies. The music in the film is a perfect addition to each scene, and there isn’t a single moment where it seems inappropriate or out of place. The final climactic confrontation on the train is a marvel as to what can be done with modern effects and should be a standard for all films to follow.
The acting is superb. Casting Walker for Lincoln might have only been outdone by somehow getting the man himself. He is a dead ringer in appearance, and carries a demeanor befitting the historical accounts. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, does a great job of balancing being a strong, independent woman that the women of today can still empathize with while still maintaining the attitudes and demeanor of a woman of the 19th Century.
This is not a film that is going to tickle everyone’s fancy. There are times when the violence is rather unexpected and graphically shown, and there are more than a few heart-wrenching scenes that, despite being tactfully done, can be a lot to handle. However, this is a powerful character driven story that is evenly and wonderfully supported by a superb cast bolstered by great visuals that don’t diminish or take away from the story in any way. This is a great standalone story that, thankfully, does not leave any real room for a sequel.