Abigail 2024 still
Director
,
Cast
, , , , , , ,
Rated
R
Runtime
109 min.
Release Date
04/19/2024
Abigail 2024 poster

A gloopy and gleeful splatterfest, Abigail is the latest from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, better known as Radio Silence. After cranking out the last two Scream sequels (2022, 2023), the duo returns with an original idea that bears more than a few similarities to their 2019 effort, Ready or Not. Like that movie, their latest features another assortment of victims trapped in an elaborate mansion overnight, most of them disposable. The sole exception is the sympathetic Final Girl, who narrowly survives no end of vicious attacks and double-crosses from the others. Another elaborate, mythological backstory is at play, requiring the cheeky cast to run around the house in terror, quipping along the way. And when things get bloody, boy, do they get bloody. The directors don’t skimp on the gore, with bodies exploding in a manner that recalls the final sequence of Ready or Not. The effect isn’t so much scary as a grotesque hoot. I point out these similarities not to disparage Abigail at all; the film is a blast. Instead, I draw the comparison only to note that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have taken previously explored motifs and refined them into an even better horror-comedy. 

The scenario involves a group of lowlife criminals enlisted by a handler (Giancarlo Esposito) to kidnap the titular 12-year-old girl (Alisha Weir). Although this crew of knuckleheads doesn’t know whose kid they’re taking, each has been promised a $7 million payday, so it must be someone important. After nabbing the girl from her home and relocating her to a dusty, secluded mansion, where they’re expected to wait for 24 hours until her father pays the ransom, these dregs pass the time by drinking from the well-stocked bar and posturing about their cred. Even though the rule says no names or backgrounds, and they use aliases, the most empathetic of the bunch, Joey (Melissa Barrera), sizes everyone up: there’s the smarmy former detective (Dan Stevens), the dopey muscle (Kevin Durand), the dopier wheelman (the late Angus Cloudter), the tech whiz (Kathryn Newton), and the former military sniper (William Catlett). If the group seems fraught initially, the mild tension subsides—but doesn’t disappear—after someone in the mansion, which they cannot escape, starts hunting them. 

If you’ve seen the trailer for Abigail, you already know that the preadolescent ballerina, well, isn’t one; rather, she’s a bloodthirsty vampire who delights in trapping and toying with her food. However, in adopting this high-concept B-movie premise, Abigail takes its time getting to that reveal, not unlike From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), making one wish that the marketing had preserved the film’s secrets. In any case, the filmmakers use that time to establish the dynamics in this gang of reprobates, giving each one amusing quirks that bring the material to life. While Barrera is the resident hero, Stevens excels at playing slimy and corrupt. Cloud and Durand have several hilarious moments as riotous dum-dums, while Catlett’s role feels rather dry. Newton, no stranger to genre fare after the rewatchable Freaky (2020) and this year’s abysmal Lisa Frankenstein, shows she may have found her niche in horror-comedies. The terrific cast is limited to these familiar faces, so no death feels anonymous or throwaway. And each one is rendered with gooey-looking practical effects and worthy CGI that will please gorehounds. 

Abigail 2024 stillWritten by Stephen Shields and the directors’ regular collaborator Guy Busick, the film might be inspired by 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, at least in concept. In Universal Pictures’ spinoff-sequel to Dracula (1931), Gloria Holden plays Countess Marya Zaleska, whose lesbian tendencies were subdued—but not altogether removed—by the Production Code. The plot of this lesser-seen classic doesn’t seem to have factored in Abigail; it’s as though Shields and Busick took the idea of Dracula having a daughter and ran with it. Still, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett join Leigh Whannell (The Invisible Man, 2020) in revitalizing an iconic Universal monster with an inspired interpretation, offering a sharp-toothed alternative to the banality of the planned-and-scrapped “Dark Universe” of monsters, which began and ended with 2017’s The Mummy. Few moviegoers will make the association between Abigail and other Universal properties, and that’s hardly a problem; the connection is purely extratextual. In fact, the result has more in common with Interview with the Vampire (1994), as Weir plays a ravenous counterpart to the girlish killer Claudia, Kirsten Dunst’s breakthrough role. 

Indeed, Weir’s performance is just as convincing as Dunst’s was. The Wicked Little Letters performer effortlessly alternates between an innocent child and a centuries-old predator, justifying the terror expressed by her prey. Smarter than her youthful appearance suggests and armed with a set of spiky, jagged teeth, she doesn’t look like your standard bloodsucker with two fangs, and her frequent pirouetting and cannibalistic insults add a maniacal edge. But then, the filmmakers revise much vampire lore here. Crucifixes and garlic have no effect, for instance, whereas the tried-and-true disposal methods of sunlight and wooden stakes remain effective. Abigail’s father is presumably Dracula—though, he goes by “many names”—and his reveal is memorable. Abigail keeps viewers on their toes with twists and turns, including fleshed-out backstories and changing sympathies. Some of the character work is obvious and heavy-handed, including a subplot about Joey, a mother who sympathizes with Abigail and remains desperate to get home to her estranged son. But the film has a nimble pace that makes good use of its 109-minute runtime, which is longer than usual for this sort of thing. 

Abigail is dark yet competently shot by cinematographer Aaron Morton, and Brian Tyler’s score brings consistency to the film’s intentional tonal shifts. Pulling off this balance of humor and horror is tough, and several recent attempts have failed miserably. The aforementioned Lisa Frankenstein is one; last year’s Dracula comedy Renfield is another. With Ready or Not, their Scream movies, and now Abigail, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett have proven they’re experts at blending goofy characters and geysers of blood. Watching their latest had me in a state of euphoric delight; it reminded me of seeing Slither (2006) or You’re Next (2011) for the first time, where the laughter and carnage make for an innately engaging experience. After all, no genres are more dependent on gut reactions than comedy and horror. When they’re combined well, the viewer’s response is almost involuntary. Abigail boasts a few genuine scares, but mostly, it’s a lot of fun for moviegoers who enjoy their laughs with a generous helping of blood and gore.  

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