Reviewer: Charity Bishop
My first encounter with one of the new "paranormal speculative fiction" historical novels was to screech to a halt in a bookstore and threaten to shout bloody murder. The very idea of Queen Victoria slaying werewolves or Abraham Lincoln taking after vampires offends my very historical-based sensibilities. Imagine my surprise therefore to take a chance on this big-screen adaptation of the novel and actually enjoy it.
In the years before Abraham Lincoln became one of the most famous presidents in American history, he secretly wanted revenge for his mother's death at the hands of... something. Young Abe (Benjamin Walker) bides his time and then takes his chance, only to discover the fiend who murdered his mother can't be killed by mortal means. This brings Henry (Dominic Cooper) into his life, who educates him on vampire mythology and starts training him to dispatch these monsters, who live and work among the society of the South. Lincoln sets off for the big city to study law and deal with the undead, only to cross paths with the charismatic Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Yet even as he falls in love, Henry's warning to form no friendships and build no family that might be taken from him rings in his ears...
What unfolds over two hours is a movie of more charm than I anticipated, particularly in its delightful depiction of the introduction and courtship of Abe and Mary. Immense changes were made from the novel, which disappoints book fans, but as someone who hasn't read the book, didn't prove problematic. Some of the action scenes are truly jaw-dropping, even if they go in for a touch of the macabre and absurd (one vampire hurtles a horse at Abe, who then promptly rides it in pursuit). The costuming is beautiful, as is the terrific cast, made up of little-known (and some, in the case of Rufus Sewell, not so little known) actors. It's an interesting take on "alternative history," with style.
Reading reviews, particularly from more conservative sources, I anticipated the film to be bloodier than it really was... either the black blood of vampires doesn't seem as gruesome as most R-rated action films or the stylized manner of shooting the piece diminishes it, because it didn't turn my stomach. It's true that there isn't much characterization, and it almost seems clichéd to turn a champion of the enslaved into a vampire hunter (the metaphor is evident) but it's something different from what we've seen before, and it may (however indirectly) encourage audiences to read up on the real man, who was far more magnificent than this one, if not as downright cool.
Upper female nudity on a corpse (brief); a man and woman are interrupted in a bathtub (no nudity, ten second shot); a prostitute is harassed by a customer.
One f-word, two GD, mild profanities.
Vampires are decapitated, shot, and sliced in half; black blood spatters in slow motion; lots of battle and action violence, some scenes of vampires attacking and biting humans.