Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Running Time: 105 min
Release: 20 June
When I die I’d love for them to say “well, at least there was no cheap way you could impress him.” That won’t be the case, because a lot of cheap things have; loud-and-clear cheap things like professional wrestling and Beano annuals, and things with a cheapness that is all the more corrupting for being covert, like Naked Lunch. Cheap things that have recently failed to impress me are those books with titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. They’re premised on the collision of cult art, like zombies and ninjas, with a little literature or history culturally pervasive enough for our grandparents to have studied it in school. It all began with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Graeme-Smith, who also wrote the book on which Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based.
The way these geeky things go, if you came across the first one, you get it. And every time the gimmick replays, returns diminish; if you jump in in the middle, there’s not much left to get. All you’ll need to come to grips with are explosions or zombie beheadings or some equivalent. Abraham Lincoln comes right after the Graeme-Smith-style The Raven, with John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe P.I., and before the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film due out next year, so you’d expect the thing to be dumber and emptier than it, mostly, is. The plot follows the trajectory of Lincoln’s life, with the Civil War as a handy Act 3 crisis – honest Abe finds out that the Southern States are ruled by the undead. This pose of mock-historical credibility gives Abraham Lincoln some of the weight it needs.
The film mostly races alongside history; the closer it veers, the more substantial and impressive the thrill. It took a deft bit of high-concept elaboration to recognise that the swamp-dwelling Euro-American plantation owners, with worse manners and better clothes than any Transylvanian, were practically vampires already. Rufus Sewell’s accent is definitely weird enough, anyway. Then, suddenly, the bumpers clip and history spins off the road; it’s a mistake to hint, as Abraham Lincoln does, that slavery, and the civil war, were due to nothing more than the Bayou undead’s craving for plasma jambalaya. Soon the race is forfeited, and all that’s left are explosions and beheadings. It should’ve been difficult for me to begin to doze during the climactic train chase, with 3D glasses pinching the bridge of my nose and the limb-hacking and Sewell scowling so. Yet somehow I managed it.