The problem with historical fiction is that the viewer comes into the movie already knowing the ending. The challenge then for the writer and director is to make the audience care about the journey, rather than the destination. It is here that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter fails.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov and based on the Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling novel with the same title, the film chronicles the secret life of the 16th president as a vampire slayer. But missing from the movie is the humor and heart that makes the book enjoyable.
Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) vows to kill all vampires after witnessing the murder of his mother at the hands of a vampire when he was a boy. As an adult, Lincoln manages to track down but fails to kill the vampire -- and is almost killed himself until rescued by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper). Sturges then becomes Lincoln's mentor in vampire hunting.
With the help of Sturges, Lincoln becomes a skilled slayer, and later becomes an Abolitionist when he learns that vampires are using slaves as a food source in the South. The filmmaker then takes the audience through the Civil War.
Despite having an interesting foundation, the director never gives the audience a reason to care about Lincoln.
Walker, in his Hollywood debut, with his natural comedic talents did what he could with the character but was never given a chance to create a compelling character—which is too bad, because Walker can act. He got rave reviews playing another president in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson but in Vampire Hunter, Walker's talents are wasted.
Yes, vampires are vile creatures that needed to be eliminated. Yes, slavery is repulsive and should be abolished. But there seems to be a disconnect between the two horrors—rather than complementing each other to give the audience the sense of dread about the situation, they seem to cancel each other out.
Bekmambetov seems to favor action and pacing over storytelling. He never slows down enough to let the moment sink in or to the let audience invest in the characters. The frenetic pacing makes the steller action sequence that much more fun and exciting, but like an amusement park ride—it was great while it lasted, but unsatisfying when it’s over.