Film reviews and more since 2009

Abigail (2024) review

Dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

It would appear that the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (known collectively as “Radio Silence”) are at their maximum filmmaking comfort when their stories involve two things: a large, exquisitely furnished mansion and mercilessly bloody kills. Their skills shine the brightest when those elements converge. Task them with handling legacyquels to a long-running franchise, and they find themselves unable to advance the series forward.

Their latest film, Abigail, feels so closely tethered to their 2019 cat-and-mouse splatter-fest Ready or Not that I wonder if they kicked around calling this film “Here I Come.” Conceived as a reboot of Dracula’s Daughter, Abigail has Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett (working off a script from Stephen Shields and Guy Busick) placing several characters into a house to see who kills them first: one of their own, or a little girl who is not as sweet nor as helpless as she appears. The visual styles of both Ready or Not and Abigail are practically the same: a juxtaposition of posh excess further decorated by endless gore. Both films are buoyed by a light-hearted tone, which makes them easy to enjoy on their merits. Don’t expect anything “elevated” other than the sharp chords of the music and the overall body count.

Abigail stars Melissa Barrera (Scream VI) as Joey, who, along with several others, is hired for a carefully orchestrated kidnapping. Where she harbors her an aura of mystery, her partners are each their own unique breed of eccentric. Frank (Dan Stevens, Godzilla x Kong: A New Empire) is a suave straight-shooter; Dean (the late Angus Cloud) is a mumbling loose cannon; Sammy (Kathryn Newton, Lisa Frankenstein) is a ditzy young hacker; Peter (Kevin Durand, The Strain) is a musclebound dork, who shares a lot in common with Drax; finally, there’s Rickles (William Catlett, A Thousand and One), a quiet former military-man.

Within the opening minutes, the group successfully abduct a little girl named Abigail (Alisha Weir, Matilda the Musical) from her father’s mansion and bring her to a completely different mansion in the middle of nowhere, per the orders of their leader (Giancarlo Esposito).

Here’s where things get complicated: the film has a second act twist, but its trailers, and even some of its posters, have ruined the surprise. The twist comes less than an hour into the film, and its best scenes happen after it’s revealed; I’ve already ruined it just by giving some external details about its conception. If you still don’t know what said twist is, and would rather not know, this would be the ideal place to stop reading.

Abigail is a full-fledged vampire movie; its titular little girl is actually a centuries-old bloodsucker. Remarkably, there’s not a lot of bloodsucking happening in this film. The Radio Silence team goes completely insane in having their characters explode like a bomb, only the shrapnel is comprised of guts and entrails. If you’re a splatter fan, it’s quite delightful, and even the most astute horror fan needs a break from deaths that either happen off-screen, are mostly bloodless, or burdened by some metaphor for grief.

While we come for the kills, it’s always nice to be treated to some character development and fun personalities, and it’s a thrill to report that Abigail delivers on those attributes in spades. Dan Stevens is an absolute riot; a no-nonsense former detective who gradually goes more ballistic as the situation intensifies. He is responsible for some of the film’s funniest lines in conjunction with Kevin Durand, a total buffoon who is cognizant enough not to slow down the shenanigans. At the film’s center is a dastardly Alisha Weir, who may have a future as a junior scream-queen.

Like Ready or Not, Abigail doesn’t have a whole lot to say, despite being a reworking of material featuring one of the most thematically potent characters the horror genre has ever seen. It’s essentially a long wrestling match between a plethora of nitwits and a vampiric little girl. The minor annoyance that it comes bearing two or three plausible endings is even offset by the fact that the film doesn’t conclude the way you might be expecting. In the moment, a genre film like this can work wonders. And yet, the truly great ones always had something to say to assure staying power.

NOTE: Abigail is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Alisha Weir, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand, Will Catlett, Angus Cloud, Giancarlo Esposito, and Matthew Goode. Directed by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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