Abigail : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on April 18, 2024 in / No Comments

 

Rated R by the MPA for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, pervasive language and brief drug use. Running time: 109 minutes. Released by Universal Pictures.

Horror movies are always more fun when there’s a kid as the villain, and that’s exactly what we get with Radio Silence’s new film, Abigail. Supposedly a reimagining of Dracula’s Daughter, Abigail has enough of its own spirit to divorce itself almost completely from its origins thanks to Radio Silence’s beyond-dark sense of humor and fantastic actors backing it all up. I had an absolute blast with this kidnapping-gone-horribly-awry story, centering on a team of mercenaries pulling off a daring abduction for a “set for life” payout.

We first see Alisha Weir’s titular Abigail performing a graceful ballet to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” intercut with people in cars wearing masks and hacking into a security system. It’s fairly standard stuff with the fairly standard folks – Frank (Dan Stevens), the guy who wants to be in charge; Joey (Melissa Barrera), a nurse with her wits about her who winds up being more in charge; Peter (Kevin Durand), the musclebound big guy who’s there as, well, the muscle; Rickles (Will Catlett), the efficient sniper, clipped in both speech and motion; Sammy (Kathryn Newton), the obvious misfit who’s only there for her computer skills; and, finally, Dean (Angus Cloud, in his final filmed performance), the stoner dude who fronts like he’s the man, but pales in comparison to these professionals. They share no names or speak of their backgrounds; everyone is only to carry out their task and that’s it.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Abigail, Universal PicturesOne of the best things that directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (founding members of the Radio Silence collective) are  terrific at doing is setting us up with exactly what we need to know before taking off at a gazillion miles an hour and managing to hold us with them. Their takeover of Wes Craven’s Scream series brought them more into the mainstream, and both of those films – while still staying within the rules of the Scream playbook – bore their unmistakable imprimatur. A cracking script by Stephen Shields and frequent collaborator Guy Busick plays right into their wheelhouse, bearing both ingenuity and hilarious meta references, a thrilling combination of both familiar and fresh.

They engage us straightaway with Frank’s volatile and cold nature taking the reins as they storm Abigail’s home in the city before drugging her and taking her to another rather palatial country estate. There, team benefactor Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) informs them that they’re going to be locked in with Abigail for the next 24 hours until they get a $50 million ransom. But when they find out who Abigail’s father is and what Abigail actually is, it turns from a simple snatch-and-grab into a fight for their very lives.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Abigail, Universal PicturesWell, as the trailer’s spoiled it for everyone, there’s no harm in telling you that Abigail’s a vampire. A ballet-dancing, centuries-old vampire, perpetually stuck in a child’s body. Weir is marvelous, switching effortlessly between innocent victim, wailing banshee monster, and old soul with fresh meat nearby. Her vampire scream may get to be a little much, but it’s part of watching Weir have a great time sinking her teeth – literally – into this role. She vacillates between dancing to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, throwing body parts around to stun her captors into shock, and being able to levitate while holding onto a grown man, bent on having fun with this unexpected smorgasbord.

We’re hoping that her gentle bond with Joey, forged in the early goings, will allow her to show some mercy. A mother herself, Joey makes a pinky promise to never let anyone hurt her – which she does, but even she can’t hold out for long before firing a gun at a vamped-out Abigail on the hunt. While Joey’s professional front requires her to be professional, she doesn’t mind cold-reading everyone for wagered cash that exposes everyone for the threat they are to each other and Abigail. But she’s got her own baggage, all of which gets revealed and falls into place like a missing puzzle piece. To this end, Melissa Barrera shades Joey appropriately and with care, becoming the only sympathetic character we get to follow.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Abigail, Universal PicturesThe rest? Well, they’re either too dumb, power-hungry, or out of their depth to hold out any hope for their survival. Dan Stevens gives Frank a glowering menace, the motives behind which are hinted at in Joey’s cold reading and get exploited to damaging extents. That leaves Sammy and Peter, a snarky black hat hacker and a lovable meathead, to fill out the body count. You almost feel bad for Peter, written as a mere order-taker without having any initiative of his own; although he threatens Abigail at one point, he only does it because someone told him to, but there’s a lack of hesitation that spins his character into an unpredictable space. He speaks with the patois of someone who’s just there, but in kinder moments, he tries to make the best of things. Durand – a delight to watch since Mystery, Alaska – essays an odd and oddly magnetic performance as the lunkhead well beyond his sphere of reality; he gives Peter a good heart, but his strength overrides logic and emotion as his driver.

This isn’t really a “scary movie,” per se; it’s an action film with a vampire. Shields and Busick’s script moves like a video game from one area of the house to another, finding the enemy in the room and fighting it off to varying degrees of success. And as Radio Silence’s name is at the front of the movie, you better believe you’re in for a harrowing, great time. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett crank up the fun and gore (watch out for the sunlight exposure scenes!) while thundering toward a grand climax beyond anything we expect. Aided by thorough performances, Abigail kicks our asses with style and a whole lot of spectacular action.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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