Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Is Absolutely Absurd But Mary Todd Is Badass
By Alex Cranz
It may have been a mistake to see Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter with my sister. She has three great loves: US history (she’s in fact a professor of it), Michael Dudikoff films, and vampires.
This movie’s logline was one America ninja short of being my sister’s mothership. But the film itself was just…guys it was fanfiction and not even 50 Shades of Vanilla S&M fanfiction where at least you get some bizarre scene where a dude plucks a lady’s pube hairs and it’s meant to be erotic. No, this was historical fanfiction. The nerdiest of the nerdy. And what’s worse? It was totally AU. Honest Abe’s mom dies from vampirism instead of milk death or whatever it is called ( which according to Wikipedia haunted the dude and forced him to relocate repeatedly), and he’s poor instead of okay and he and Mary Todd are both smoking instead of just kind of American history “eh.”
But the worst was how the vampires were totally filling the ranks of the Confederate army and still sucking SO MUCH. These guys can have epic and awesome fights on a stampede of horses (that really happens and MARTON CSOSKAS is involved–be still my vulva) and rock those wiener ancient sunglasses and look less than wienery but they can’t win a couple of battles? Seriously?
I would love to hate Abraham Lincoln for being historically inaccurate…but it is about the sixteenth president being a vampire hunter so it’s not something one can actually get mad about. I would also love to love it because Abe Lincoln is in his fifties and leaping around fiery trains battling evil Rufus Sewell but the ridiculousness of the film actually existing kept me in a weird state between horror and delight. I couldn’t quite muster emotions either way.
What I could do is relish the cinematography which is quite sumptuous and gives the 1810s-1860s a real decadence. For whatever faults the story might have (there are many) the technical aspects of the film are top notch. Caleb Deschanel (Zooey and Emily’s dad) serves as cinematographer and does some of his best work in ages on the film and Timur Behmambetov delivers what is becoming his signature tone as director. Between this film, Wanted and Night Watch he’s developed a pattern. He treats all of his films with utter seriousness. These characters are largely humorless bastards through and through, but as his characters take things deathly seriously he steps back and finds the humor of the situation. Vampire wars in Russia, assassin cabals led by Morgan Freeman and an axe wielding warrior president. These are ridiculous things and Behmambetov knows it and isn’t afraid to let that ridiculousness shine through.
He doesn’t wink at the audience. That would be cheap. He just tells his tales, warts and all, and expects you to see the humor in them.
And he and writer Seth Grahame-Smith do something really, really wonderful.
They don’t portray Mary Todd Lincoln as a punchline. And that is something she’s certainly become over time in popular culture. She’s the dumpy little first lady who went insane after she lost her husband and all but one of her sons. She’s the bipolar one (synonymous with “crazy” in many circles including Glee) who spent the nation’s money on furnishing the White House even as we were losing ourselves in a war. She’s meant for ridicule.
But not in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter here she’s popular in her youth. A vivacious young woman that had half of Illinois at her beck and call and was known to date powerful men (including Stephen Douglas–played by the always delightful Alan Tudyk) and verbally spar with them as an equal. Yes some of it is inaccurate. I’m pretty sure she and Harriet Tubman didn’t join forces to f up some Confederate vampires and I’m positive she wasn’t at Gettysburg.
Nevertheless this is a graceful portrayal of the First Lady. One that is never played for laughs. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays her with a kind of flinty strength, and like lead Benjamin Walker, she plays it all deadly seriously.
Even in the final moments of the film, when they’re festooned in old age make up and preparing for a night at the theater (SPOILERS), they’re playing these characters honestly and as if they really are the President and First Lady: Vampire Hunters.
Which is almost regrettable. The actors seem almost too good for the story they appear in. They’re genuine and mired in something that is anything but.