Connect with us

Featured Review

Abigail ★★★★



Released: 19th April 2024

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Cast: Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Alisha Weir, William Catlett, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud & Giancarlo Esposito

Ready or Not on steroids,” – that’s how Radio Silence’s co-directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett have summed up their latest film, Abigail. From observations, it’s hard not to see why. Their track record with Ready or Not (my personal favourite) and the last two Scream films have coincided with the genre operating at the peak of its powers, both critically and financially. Their latest attempt – taking inspiration from the 1936 film Dracula’s Daughter – sees the duo venture into vampire lore, which to some may feel like diving into an overpopulated subgenre when Nosferatu, Dracula and Interview With a Vampire have raised the bar respectively. But from the outset, Abigail proves to be a worthy entry. Think about it – where else can you see a vampire ballerina who loves pirouetting to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as she “plays with her food”? With a concept as wild as this, who says horror can’t be fun anymore?

Olpin and Gillett inject the same absurd comical energy found in their hit film Ready or Not. They establish a mysterious house full of secrets and fill its environment with mind games, a basement filled with dead bodies to crawl away from and enough back-stabbing, suspicious characters to be an episode of BBC’s The Traitors. Yet, Abigail’s bloodsucking novelty is far from perfect, lacking the narrative tightness of Ready or Not or the meta-confidence of Scream (2022) to fully embrace its concept. But what is consistent throughout their cinematic motif is their use of blood, and their latest film provides a copious amount which is not for the faint-hearted. Seriously, it’s messy, explosive, violent and bloody, ranging from the small scale to insanity. I wouldn’t be surprised if it broke the Guinness Book of Records. Uneven approach aside. Abigail may not reinvent the wheel but revels in its twisty, campy and entertaining premise, wearing its horror tropes and cliches on its blood-soaked sleeve. 

It was supposed to be simple – a group of criminals undertake a job that would make them $50 million dollars richer by kidnapping a 12-year-old ballerina-obsessed girl. Following the orders set by the mysterious Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), the kidnappers are forced to stay in an isolated mansion for 24 hours to monitor the girl while negotiations take place for her release. But after a series of deaths as the group are picked off one by one, they soon realise they’re trapped with no ordinary girl.

For such a straightforward story, the film’s first act does take a while to get going. Guy Busick and Stephen Shield’s B-movie-inspired script utilises every opportunity to get to know its archetypal kidnappers by positioning it like a heist movie (alongside Reservoir Dogs-style code names). We’re introduced to Dean the driver (Angus Cloud in his final on-screen performance before his tragic passing last year), Sammy the hacker (Kathryn Newton), Peter the muscle (Kevin Durand), Rickles the sniper (William Catlett), Frank the leader (Dan Stevens) and probably the least of the bad bunch, Joey the guardian (Melissa Barrera) who is assigned to watch Abigail. As the strangers get to know each other, playing a guessing game on their real-life identities while speculating on the girl’s connection to the criminal underworld, the film’s emotional anchor comes from Barrera and Weir. With Joey making ‘pinky promises’ to protect the child from harm, their on-screen maternal bond is full of daddy issues and past mistakes. 

But once the expositional heavy lifting is done and the penny eventually drops, the film takes enjoyable pride in executing its payoffs by launching itself into an explosive bloodbath of chaos and vampiric bedlam. The film’s explosive use of practical effects within its claustrophobic setting adds to the tension and stakes (vampire pun intended). Whether intentional or not, Abigail possesses a proactive energy reminiscent of films such as Alien or Predator, with characters figuring out their survival game plan until the last one remains. But part of the silly, watchable charm permeating from Olpin and Gillett’s film comes from its humour. Not only is it ingrained in its characters with a scene-stealing Durand, but in how much it pokes fun at vampire mythology. In the hilarious aftermath of discovering Abigail’s true nature, the group argue what type of vampire it is (using Twilight and True Blood as pop culture references) before going on the hunt to test the theory using garlic, a crucifix necklace and a wooden stake. In one quick swoop with Tchaikovsky as its soundtrack, Abigail dispels them all in a comically gory backlash. It’s certainly one way to keep audiences on their toes and highlights Radio Silence’s continued aptitude to experiment and master the genre.

Despite moments where the plot buckles under its own weight, the characters steady the ship. Barrera, once again, proves herself as the ultimate ‘Scream Queen’ of this generation, showcasing her range beyond the Scream franchise. Providing plenty of bite, Weir’s transformative display crafts a new horror icon that defies the conventions of traditional vampire tales for something more visceral, primal and deadly. Carrying on in the same vein as his performance in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Stevens’ performance is also noteworthy, as he once again proves his versatility by adapting himself to the crazy absurd tones a film emits and brings his A-game to deliver a mixture of humour and drama.

It may not have reached the highs of their previous work, but as a blood-soaked thrill ride, Abigail knows exactly what it is and gives audiences a fun, crowd-pleasing adventure on the big screen.

Just For You