Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Year: 2012
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Producer: Timur Bekmambetov/Tim Burton/Seth Grahame-Smith
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Eizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Robin McLeavy

You might not know Seth Grahame-Smith's name, but he's sending tsunamis of influence across Hollywood. The 36-year-old is a one-man mash-up industry because of a little book you might have heard of called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It spawned not only a literary phenomenon (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, among others) but has given rise to a new subgenre of action cinema where studios can give audiences a classic twofer. Who doesn't want to see historical figures battling monsters and evil, real historical events entwined with the secret story of the undead or supernatural that was really involved?

In late 2011 Universal Studios announced their intention to make an action adventure film with a young Leonardo Da Vinci as the hero, and if the success of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films is anything to go, it's a dead cert. Pitting the artist, inventor and engineer against all manner of villains using an array of self-developed machinery and weapons could be a steampunk-tinged romp.

While everything about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seems like a Pride and Prejudices and Zombies-style gag (even down to the title), it actually has more in common with the Holmes films. It delights in the clanking, metallic industry of the era (the US of the 1800s) as the young Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) finds his true self – orator, lawyer, politician and hunter.

He's driven by vengeance after his beloved mother is killed by a vampire in her bed, determined to track down the monster responsible, local merchant Barts (Marton Csokas).

As a young man, he gets his chance when the enigmatic Henry (Dominic Cooper) saves his skin when the attack on Barts goes wrong and he rises to attack Lincoln again despite having taken a musket shot in the eye.

A lifelong vampire hunter, Henry explains to the young Abe that their enemy is widespread, recruiting the future President to his cause and assigning him targets as his skills with his silver-tipped axe grow.

Abe looks forward to the day when he gets the assignment he really wants – Barts – but there's a storm brewing on the horizon and the leader of the vampire clan, Adam (Rufus Sewell) wants the US for himself. It's going to take much more than an axe to stem the tide of bloodsuckers, and everything from the emancipation of the slaves to the civil war form the backbone of the story.

There are lots of shots of Lincoln twirling his axe like a ninja and director Timur Bekmambetov crams the film with his signature style of slo-mo, balletic, bullet time. There's plenty of glorious splashing of blood and a few out-of-your-seat scares, but the film's biggest success is that it manages to stay above the one-joke territory the name suggests. It never really lags or runs out of ideas, and it works because Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov are taking the whole thing seriously instead of spending the whole film winking knowingly at you.

The script plays very fast and loose with vampire mythology to suit itself, and purists might not be happy with them having adapted to sunlight or dying by silver (which is usually werewolves), but if you can get past that it's a good time adventure flick. If it does well, expect a flood of copycats from both literature and movies.

Walker doesn't really have the presence to be an action star (not nearly as much as Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes, for instance), and you can see his performance getting wonkier in the later scenes where he portrays the 50-year-old President, but he's surrounded by an able and charismatic supporting cast.

But keep your eyes open for Robin McLeavey as Lincoln's mother, the Aussie girl who was so good in psycho slasher flick The Loved Ones. She's beautiful, talented, and The Loved Ones has enough attention in the US right now to put her on the fast track to a Hollywood career.

Lastly, there's good news for the 3D in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It's not Bekmambetov's gimmicky 3D moments, it's the fact that even in the night scenes the picture is crisp and detailed. It might be something to do with the footage capture, or maybe your cinema just has to turn the projection lamps up.

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