Abigail (2024, dirs. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)

by | Apr 20, 2024

Certificate: 18

Running Time: 109 mins

UK Distributor: Universal Pictures

UK Release Date: 19 April 2024

WHO’S IN ABIGAIL?

Alisha Weir, Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, William Catlett, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud, Giancarlo Esposito, Matthew Goode

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (directors), Guy Busick and Stephen Shields (writers), Paul Neinstein, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Chad Villella and Tripp Vinson (producers), Brian Tyler (composer), Aaron Morton (cinematographer), Michael P. Shawver (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A group of kidnappers realise that young Abigail (Weir) is no ordinary child…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON ABIGAIL?

Since the immediate failure of their Dark Universe – which would have seen a shared cinematic universe with the likes of Tom Cruise’s Mummy, Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man, and Angelina Jolie as the Bride of Javier Bardem’s Frankenstein(‘s Monster) – Universal has wisely reverted to simply letting filmmakers create their own standalone takes on the studio’s gallery of classic monsters. More often than not, the results have been fairly solid, with Leigh Whannell’s 2020 version of The Invisible Man being a prime example of what a filmmaker’s vision can bring to a familiar concept (the writer-director is now currently working on a modern-day revamp of The Wolf Man).

Then, there’s Abigail, which sees directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett adopt a similar mentality as their darkly comic 2019 horror Ready or Not for their own take on the lesser-known 1936 vampire feature Dracula’s Daughter. If you’ve seen Ready or Not (or, more likely, the two recent Scream movies that they directed), then you should more or less know what to expect here, except with a small but deadly ballerina vampire instead of a bumbling upper-class family of killers. Luckily, I enjoyed Ready or Not quite a bit, and I had a good time with Abigail too, in all its unapologetically gory and entertaining madness.

The film begins as young Abigail (Alisha Weir), the young daughter of a powerful and wealthy underworld figure, is abducted by a group of kidnappers – including recovering addict Joey (Melissa Barrera), former cop Frank (Dan Stevens), rich-girl hacker Sammy (Kathryn Newton), dunderheaded mob enforcer Peter (Kevin Durand), former Marine Rickles (William Catlett) and sociopathic stoner Dean (Angus Cloud) – for a hefty ransom. They are instructed by their ringleader Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) to remain holed up in their mansion hideout for the next 24 hours and keep an eye on the child, until her father pays up. However, it soon transpires that it is the kidnappers who are being held prisoner by none other than Abigail herself, a monstrous vampire with a thirst for blood whom they must all now try and avoid however they can.

Part of me is a little apprehensive to reveal that last part, because even though it’s in the trailer and is the main selling point of the film – hell, the film it’s based on is called Dracula’s Daughter, which should have been a major giveaway before any promotional material even came out – the reveal of Abigail as a demonic vampire is treated like a major twist close to the halfway point. I’m genuinely curious as to whether the marketing team on this film dropped the ball hard by putting that front and centre in the advertising, rather than having it be something for audiences to discover for themselves, because it’s a real rug-pulling moment that I feel would have had more impact if it was kept a secret until release. The same can be said about a lot of other shots and scenes that are in the trailer, including one or two major character deaths, which one should certainly expect to see in a film like this, but not in the material designed to sell you on witnessing the spoiler-heavy moments in the actual product.

Honestly, going in knowing what that central twist is does make most of the first act a bit of a slog, as you’re waiting to see the vampire carnage that you came for more than you are getting invested in much else. Admittedly, the directors do use their time wisely by setting up the various areas in this singular location, in addition to its characters and the dynamics they share with each other, which does make for some fun pairings as well as plenty of engaging performances from the likes of Melissa Barrera, Kevin Durand and Dan Stevens (the latter of whom is clearly beginning to embrace his tongue-in-cheek screen presence as he also did in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire). However, the pacing is perhaps a bit too generous towards these characters, who are not terribly written but aren’t hugely complex either, and some of the writing tends to get heavy on the exposition about their backstories, though not in particularly engaging fashion.

Once it’s revealed that Abigail is, indeed, a ballerina vampire with her eyes set on her human abductors, the film truly springs to life, and rarely comes down from its newfound high. These directors, as they did in Ready or Not and their Scream entries, certainly know how to deliver full-on horror entertainment without taking their concepts too seriously, with a fair mixture of dark comedy and gruesome violence to create a twisted sense of fun that strong-stomached audiences can enjoy as a piece of escapism. The filmmakers are also great at delivering some bonkers set-pieces that combine a demented sense of humour and their genuine love for unfiltered, blood-soaked horror. At one stage, Abigail is seen performing a ballet recital with the headless corpse of one of her victims, and that is somehow not quite as extreme as some rather explosive confrontations later on, some of which play on classic vampire weaknesses to deranged effect, all in a film that embraces its silliness to create a fun viewing experience.

So much of that entertainment is down to Alisha Weir, who as Abigail herself gives the kind of performance that is the right amount of horror-movie camp while also being legitimately intimidating in places, even in her blood-stained tutu. The young actor is having the time of her life embodying this absolutely unhinged young demon, who gleefully pirouettes en-pointe as she drives stakes through people’s legs and bites faces off with her sharpened fangs (via some decent prosthetics). It is a magnificent film-stealing turn that, as you can imagine, is the furthest away from Matilda that you could possibly get (while still retaining some of her magical powers).

It may take a bit of time for you to settle in, but once it gets going Abigail becomes a bloody good time that takes no prisoners with its gruesome bite of vampire goodness.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Abigail is an entertaining blood-soaked reimagining of Dracula’s Daughter that embraces its gruesome violence without taking itself too seriously, thanks to an outstanding central turn by Alisha Weir that delivers the right amount of vampire camp, in a film that initially struggles with pacing before getting to the good stuff.

Four of of five stars

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