Reviews

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter': The South Sucked... Blood

This movie shows how brutal death -- living death too -- is deeply entwined with idealizing and politicking and speechifying.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas
Rated: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-20 (General release)
Trailer

"There are two kinds of people in the world," explains Jack Barts (Martin Csokas). "Those who have the guts to pull the trigger and those who don't." Barts is bestowing this bit of wisdom on Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), who at this very moment is loading gunpowder and a bullet into his weapon. What young Abe hasn't figured out yet is that even when he does pull his trigger on the villain Barts, it won't matter, because Barts is a vampire. You, on the other hand, know what's coming, because you're watching a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

It takes Abe a few minutes to catch up, but by that time, it's too late -- for his mother, whom Barts killed years before and so ignited Abe's erratic thirst for vengeance, and also for the rest of the American population, who will become Abe's responsibility once he's elected president. You might be feeling that it's too late for you too -- because, again, you're watching this movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Let's start with that colonated title's premise, the jaunty mashing up of US history and horror story. It's not a terrible idea to rethink the problem posed by the Confederacy, to elaborate on its threat to the nation, the literal practice of slavery turned metaphysical, as vampirism. But still, you'd hope such elaboration would be, well, more elaborate than pitting Abe against a bunch of vampires. Apart from the self-styling slave-master Barts, this bunch is awfully generic, veiny, toothy types who follow their leader Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his hissy sister Vadoma (Erin Wasson, used here like the fashion model she's been, as set dressing). In fact, Abe dispatches with most of them pretty easily using an ax, which he prefers to a gun because, he says, of his (off-screen) personal history as a rail-splitter.

These action scenes are notably grim, partly because of the 3D glasses' added darkness, because killing anything in the mid 19th century is an atrocious business, and because Abe spends dour time pondering his self-appointed mission. He's enabled, at first, by mysterious stranger Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who serves rather like a Watcher, training him to chop down trees and then kill vampires (for both activities, Henry instructs, "Real power comes not from hate, but from truth," whatever that means) and assigning him targets, vampires passing as shopkeepers and bankers. While he's sometimes assisted by his Black Best Friend, Will (Anthony Mackie), youngish Abe keeps his night life secret from his wife Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wants him to focus on his increasingly important political career.

The film, rather carelessly, suggests that this career is accidental: Abe gives a couple of speeches about the evils of slavery (and is supported in this thinking by Mary) and eventually runs for president against fellow Illinoisan Stephen A. Douglas (Alan Tudyk), here cast as well as Mary's former beau and determined slavery supporter. As president, Abe does his best to repress his vampire-hunting past, going so far as to stow his ax away in a trunk, until Adam designs to make the nation not just slave-owning but vampiric, the apparent rationale being that the vampires eat slaves because white people (that is, white men, land-owners and voters) don't misses slaves. If this logic is sketchy, it does allow for an otherwise anomalous appearance by Harriet Tubman (Jaqueline Fleming), and also underscores Abe's awesome foresight in being friends with Will since childhood.

The movie doesn't explain how Will and Abe actually know one another in this first instance (little boy Abe intervenes -- with an ax, no less -- when he sees Will being whipped) or how Will keeps popping up at key moments in Abe's private and public lives. But Will comes to embody, awkwardly, the primary ethical point of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, that slavers and vampires are related evils, in need of Abe's vanquishing. Indeed, when Abe is president and the South secedes, the silly human elements in the rebellion, say, Jefferson Davis (John Rothman), are made pawns in Adam's broader scheme. And so, when Adam offers the South an army of vampires -- whom Davis calls "your kind" in a brief planning convo -- it's not entirely clear that said South understands what's at stake. It appears here that the South is so fixated on winning the war against the big bully Union and its figurehead Lincoln, that it's quite willing to sell its soul, so to speak.

It's probably a stretch to see in this terrible bargain any allusion to the Tea Party and today's Republicans. But still, the bargain leads to a series of horrific battles, after which someone who might be Matthew Brady takes pictures of hundreds of bloody corpses. During the later battles, however, the vampire Confederate soldiers don't go down when shot -- until, of course, Abe remembers that silver bullets and swords have a certain effectiveness. The bargain leads as well to the requisite humungous showdown between Abe and Adam, each attended by helpers who prolong the fighting, the exploding, and the dying.

It's here, in the depictions of so much dying, that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter might be slightly different from other summertime entertainments that made US presidents into action heroes, like Independence Day or Air Force One. For this movie shows how brutal death -- living death too -- is deeply entwined with idealizing and politicking and speechifying. There is no end to any of it, which is not to say the film imagines a sequel: the problem is, of course, that Abe's story is known. And so, even as he wins, even as he "pulls the trigger" on Adam and gives the Gettsyburg Address, you know the dying isn't over. But you're grateful the movie is.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".

Film

Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?

Music

London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".

Books

Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.

Music

Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.