Abigail (2024)

by - April 19th, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Lively Abigail Dances a Vampiric Ballet of Gory Delights

Abigail began life as a modern-day remake of 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter. That divine piece of Universal Studios monster madness revolved around seductive countess Marya Zaleska, stupendously portrayed by the eerily ethereal Gloria Holden, and featured a brazenly homoerotic series of events that helped make the picture a cult favorite.

Abigail (2024) | PHOTO: Universal Pictures

As curious as a straightforward reinterpretation of the material would make me, I’m honestly glad directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett — aka Radio Silence — along with screenwriters Stephen Shields and Guy Busick scrapped the original concept and went in a different direction. What they have constructed instead is a playfully gruesome monstrosity that’s part abduction crime thriller, part vampire survival tale, and all loopily chaotic nonsense. It’s like Fright NightReservoir DogsRansomInterview with a Vampire, and Ready or Not (which Radio Silence directed and Busick co-wrote) threw their DNA into a pot and this was the result.

A group of strangers working under aliases — medic Joey (Melissa Barrera), brains Frank (Dan Stevens), hacker Sammy (Kathryn Newton), muscle Peter (Kevin Durand), sniper Rickles (William Catlett), and wheelman Dean (Angus Cloud) — are hired by the soft-spoken Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) to carry out a simple task. They will kidnap 12-year-old ballerina Abigail (Alisha Weir) and hold her for 24 hours in a secluded mansion. After her wealthy father pays off a hefty ransom, they will all go their separate ways, splitting a $50-million payday.

Initially, everything goes as planned. But once the group learns who Abigail’s powerful daddy is, all six question whether seeing Lambert’s plan through is a good idea. It gets worse when they realize their pint-sized prisoner isn’t who (or what) she appears to be. Abigail is a centuries-old vampire and the mansion they’re stuck in is a massive rat trap, Joey, Frank, Sammy, and the rest are nothing more than food for a beast who likes to toy with her prey before ripping their heads off and feasting on the remains.

All-in-all, this turns out to be a heck of a lot of fun. Throats get torn out, people get impaled, and entire bodies pop in geysers of blood, guts, and viscera as if they were helium-filled balloons. Who is hunting who goes back and forth from one moment to the next like a Ping-Pong ball, Allegiances change. Surprises linger around every corner. Nothing is as it seems, and if anyone picks the wrong person to join forces with, that mistake will likely make survival impossible.

I liked the slow-burn buildup. This allows each of the actors to deftly craft their character, the entire ensemble making a memorable impression. The primary focal point is Joey and Abigail’s relationship. Before she learns the not-really-a-child’s vampiric secret, the pair start crafting an emotional bond which will make things more interesting later on in the story. There’s some deft screenwriting during this stretch, with Shields and Busick doing a terrific job of planting seeds that will blossom during the climax.

Barrera, working with Radio Silence for the third time after the 2022 Scream requel and its immediate follow-up Scream VI, delivers her best performance for the directors yet. Not only does she have marvelous rapport with Weir, but her chemistry with both Stevens and Newton is off the charts. Barrera brings a wounded complexity to these events that’s far more emotionally affecting than I anticipated, all of which makes Joey’s resilience during the last act worth cheering on as she fights for survival.

But everyone is outstanding. Stevens is great, and between this film and his performance in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, few actors can chew the scenery with such idiosyncratically varied relish yet also do so in service of the larger narrative and not just because they can. Newton also has some fantastic moments, and if she and Barrera ever get the opportunity to team up again in the future for some goofy no-holds-barred comedy (maybe that rumored Scary Movie reboot, anyone?) I’d be first in line to see what happens.

Abigail (2024) | PHOTO: Universal Pictures

Then there is Weir. She’s awesome. The talented youngster already made quite the impression in Matilda: The Musical and Wicked Little Letters, and she’s every bit as wonderful here as well. Whether it is those aforementioned early scenes with Barrera, the campy midsection where Abigail gets to revel in her monstrous malevolence, or latter sequences where the vampire’s long-held daddy issues pirouette into the spotlight, Weir can do no wrong.

Similarities to Ready or Not are undeniable, and at a certain point, Radio Silence’s affinity for exploding bodies oddly gets slightly tedious. But as issues go, these don’t mean a heck of a lot.  The finale is particularly strong, including a sensational reveal that, while hardly shocking, is so well staged I wanted to applaud. Abigail is a loopy, freewheeling lark that inventively reworks vampire mythology in several ingenious ways. It bared its fangs and danced straight into my heart.

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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