This film may not be the worst time Abraham Lincoln has ever had in a theatre, but it is darn close. Too soon? Oh well. Seriously though, this alt-history take on our sixteenth president, wherein the young Mr. Lincoln, between studying for law school, decrying slavery and bashfully wooing the wealthy debutant Mary Todd, makes his way through life in the titular profession of vampire hunter, coulda, woulda, shoulda had much more, pardon the inevitably obvious pun, bite to it. As a genre piece, the potential for something as subversive as Cabin in the Woods or perhaps as satiric as Shaun of the Dead, is inherently imbedded in the premise, but alas, Kazakh-born director Timur Bekmambetov, just could not give it, here we go again, the bite it needed to succeed.
Adapted from the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (also the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has made its own various unsuccessful attempts at filmdom lo the past three years or so), the film, through his secret diaries, tells of president Lincoln's attempts at stopping a vampire uprising in the nation. We find out lots of fun things, like how the Confederacy was manned by the undead or how Harriet Tubman helped free slaves from not oppression so much as being blood-drained fodder for the plantation owners, most of whom by the way were apparently vampires. The film stars Benjamin Walker as our intrepid vampire slayer-cum-great emancipator, and his blandness (think the poor man's Eric Bana) certainly does not help this already lumbering, languid movie. We do not get much from the rest of the cast either. Ramona Flowers herself, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as Mary Todd, really has nothing much to do. Relegated to the thankless Olivia de Havilland role opposite Walker's lanky, lackluster Errol Flynn, Winstead never sees any action. I mean c'mon, can't a woman be a vampire hunter? The only interesting role, and the only interesting performance comes from Dominic Cooper as Lincoln's mentor Henry. Granted, it is not all that meaty a role either, but by comparison, it almost soars.
In the end though, what it all comes down to is the sad fact that a film, whose premise is as inherently silly-sounding as this one's is, could have been something oh so much more than what it ends up being. In the hands of a more competent genre filmmaker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter could have been something akin to such cult horror faves as The Evil Dead or the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead. I would be very interested in finding out just what someone like Joss Whedon or Zack Snyder or J.J. Abrams would have done with such a story. Any of these three directors would have given the film so much more than what we get here. Think of Whedon's ability to interact his characters or Snyder's brazen visual bravura or Abrams' blue lens flares as Walker's young Mr. Lincoln swings his mighty silver-tipped axe. They may not succeed in making it a great or even good film, but they would almost assuredly make it more interesting. Sadly though, we get the heavy handed Mr. Bekmambetov, whose best claim to fame is the equally silly and equally ham-fisted Wanted. In Bekmambetov's direction, we get nothing of the necessary sense of humour the film so needs. Not necessarily a comic film, but a sense of humour toward the story is needed to make a film such as this work, and we get nothing but blank seriousness from the director. So perhaps this isn't quite as bad as getting shot in the back of the head while watching a mediocre production of Our American Cousin, but brother, it ain't much better.