Abigail

Directed By Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Starring – Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton

The Plot – After a group of criminals kidnap the ballerina daughter (Alisha Weir) of a powerful underworld figure, they retreat to an isolated mansion, unaware that they’re locked inside with no normal little girl.

Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, pervasive language and brief drug use.

Abigail | Official Trailer (youtube.com)

POSITIVES

After rejuvinating the Scream franchise and restoring originality and excitement to the survive the night narrative, in “Ready or Not”, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett look to make vampires cool again, with their abundance of personality and brutality that takes this concept miles, especially in the depths of its storytelling. Simply put, this is a fun experience, full of wildly eclectic characters and compelling mystery that effortlessly maintained my interests throughout a 105 minute run time, even in already knowing so much about the framing device of this dangerous little girl, that was unveiled in a generously revealing trailer. Instead of resting on its laurels of what’s advertised, this dynamic duo off-screen rely on the ambiguities of this group of criminals to drive it to places that truly couldn’t be expected, with Abigail sewing seeds of disention between them that completely takes advantage of the abundance of secrets in them constantly refusing to mix business with personal. Likewise, our own interpretation of them is constantly at odds with perception, with so little time at least initially being dedicated to their respective characterization, which leaves it difficult to trust or buy into the bill of goods that any of them are selling us. Because their various backstories are shrouded in so much mystery, with even the film opening up with the characters in place to commit this high-stakes kidnapping, instead of building any kind of backstory, it leaves the door of vulnerability completely open to so many of the meticulously placed twists that the movie unloads to the engagement, with the kind of momentary impacts that not only redefines the various dynamics within the group and what their relationship to Abigail and her family is, but also respectfully enough that it never allows the film to become bogged down or overwhelmed with convoluted emphasis that makes this grow into an entirely distasteful gimmick than what’s advertised. The dynamic duo of directors are also not afraid of getting their hands dirty in the depths of their desired R-rating, with buckets of blood and banging brutality that spring as a result of mostly practical effects work that help sell the painful devastation. The make-up work here is exceptional, with Abigail’s own physical transformation capably maintaining the sweetly sincere features of her childlike embodiment with the voracious animalistic designs in eyes and teeth that seamlessly elicit the animalistic side of her untamed ferocity, especially in the unique patterns of the stalking of her prey, which the film’s writers take ample opportunity of. Being that Abigail herself is a ballerina in her daytime appearance, her dance choreography from the stage exerts itself throughout many tensely urgent chase sequences, proving that the film isn’t above evoking fun to the parameters of the story, but in ways that work terrifically in balance with the dark and twisted sense of humor that it unloads in so many charismatic characters. Despite the previous hinderances of little to no backstory for each of them, this decorated ensemble works their magic towards bringing each of these characters to life, in turn enacting something integral towards each of them that makes it difficult to say goodbye to when they meet their untimely demise. While each of them are memorable in their respective roles, Barrera, Stevens and especially Weir are most prominent, especially in opening up so much range and scenery-chewing towards their portrayals that gave me more than a few giggles throughout. This is especially the case for Stevens, who not only turns in one of my favorite portrayals of his storied career as this ruthless jerk with no compassion for anything or anyone, but also justified in much of what he unapologetically states, especially since so much of what this overnight objective goes insane with unforeseen realities quite quickly in the initial phases of the plan. Stevens is matched beat for beat by Olpin and Gillett Scream collaborated Barrera, who once more proves that she might be the decorated badass heroine of this generation, with intelligence and resilience that allow her to hold her own in situations she’s overwhelmed in both physical and vulnerable capacities. However, it’s Weir who is the primary showstealer here, commanding the screen with a rich balance of childlike innocence and animalistic rage that essentially illustrates two performances for the price of one. Considering this is the same girl who played Matilda in 2022’s “Matilda the Musical”, I’m stunned by emotional and psychological dexterity that feels decades ahead of her fourteen years, especially in clashing with such heralded heavyweights as Barrera, Stevens, Newton, and one surprising last second cameo, who she repeatedly intimidates, before devouring entirely. Beyond even all of this, much respect goes to the production values, which inspire this single stage setting to earn the extent of its dependency, especially in homaging and emulating haunted mansions of classic horror films that feel like a character of their own in movies like these. The set decoration shows off a richly documented history in designs that constantly convey that something deeper might be at foot here, and when utilized in the depths of picture perfect framing with single characters illustrated in wide and desolate corridors, paints a candid state of depiction that feels ripe with vulnerability that feels sure to blow at any given moment.

NEGATIVES

Very little can take away from the momentum that Olpin and Gillett inspire here, but some underwhelming instances do allow for more breathing room than I would’ve appreciated, especially in so much about this story being air tight with urgency and intrigue that they craft so particularly. My biggest issue is certainly with some of the character choices of the second act, which are the kind of contrivances that frequently break my investment to a story that is surprisingly smart in both the ways it unloads character exposition, as well as evolves the magnitude of the conflict naturally. In these few instances, the film struggles for ways to keep the conflict at bay, especially during moments when it feels like it could’ve resolved itself in a matter of minutes, but essentially puts matters on pause as the plan in question gets executed, but without the single defining motion needed to cement its successful status. This is far from the only instance where my suspension of disbelief took a backseat, and I know it’s a bit silly to question logic in a movie with a vampire ballerina, but the instances in question aren’t even with the extent of its gimmick, but basic human actions, and in this regard, I wish the writers took a little more time justifying certain actions that don’t line up with the traits of the characters they spawn from. Finally, my other issue pertains to the horror itself, which is essentially only realized halfway, with an execution that is definitely brutal, but not exactly what I would ever call scary. While this film does subscribe more to the fun factor of horror that other franchises like “Scream” and “Happy Death Day” cater towards, it abandons atmosphere and chills as a way to magnify the extent of Abigail’s relentless pursuit, in turn cementing an engagement that, while fun in the abundance of personality that it elicits, isn’t remotely frightening in ways that will earn it a place among some of the more memorable vampire horror flicks of the last hundred years of cinema.

OVERALL
“Abigail” serves up a violent feast of crowd-pleasing energy and colorfully rich characters that serves as the melted butter to the kind of popcorn horror that we all grew up adoring. Despite a second act loaded with contrivances, and a dominance of humor over horror, the film is nevertheless a blood-soaked thrill ride that restores some of the bite back into cinematic vampires, with the dynamic duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett giving their toe-tapping ballerina the teeth she needs to gorge.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

3 thoughts on “Abigail

  1. Well written and reasoned, but it just doesn’t look good to me. I think the 90s burnt me out on vampire/vampire adjacent things because I just can’t get into it anymore.

  2. Another banger for the 2024 horror collection. Gotta love it! The trailer for this gave it a good hype-up and it made it feel like a twist on one of my personal favorite horror movies House on Haunted Hill. I’ve never understood the hype on Kathryn Newton as an actress, and that was one of the only things that held me back into feeling extra anticipation for this movie, but I’m glad to hear that Weir and Stevens held the spotlight. Anytime a “child actor” steals the show from a horror movie, it just gives it such an extra level of appeal. Mason Thames in The Black Phone is a prime example of that to me, so I’m hoping with Weir and Thames being the same age in their respective roles, I can catch those same vibes from the character. I’ve been intrigued by this for a little while now and due to, yet again, another fantastic review by the one-and-only Mr. Freak, this appears to be a must watch!

  3. I was intrigued by the trailer, but I did not realize it was a vampire movie until I watched it. Truth be told I likely would have passed if I had known, but I am glad that I did not. I agree that the transformation was pretty seamless and did not take away from the little girl ascetic. Thank you for the review.

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