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Film Review: Abigail’s got bite

Abigail is an entertaining hybrid of horror and heist movie, even if the gene-splicing sometimes goes awry.

If ever a film deserved a spoiler-free review, Abigail is it; unfortunately, that ship was blasted to bloody oblivion by a trailer that reveals the big surprise. Consequently, we will be discussing details you might want to avoid if you are lucky enough to have not seen the advertising campaign. Before that, we will say only that Abigail is a clever and amusing horror-thriller from Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the directing duo behind Ready or Not; if you like that film, you will like this one. Once again, the protagonist is hunted through the corridors of a sinister mansion; there are surprises about who is friend or foe; and although there is less satire at the expense of decadent elites (who are nevertheless horrible people), there are flashes of tongue-in-cheek humor, which create a gleefully gory tone that enables the film to go for a hard-R rating without alienating viewers who might normally flinch at explosive splatter effects.

So, basically a guaranteed good time for any and all concerned. Just be warned that the film requires a mega-sized suspension of disbelief as it careens into whatever crazy directions the filmmakers felt like even if that meant making up the rules on the fly – or simply making a character fly because…why not?


Abigail Film Review: Spoilers

Abigail film review
Alisha Weir as Abigail

If you’re reading this, we assume you have seen the trailer and know what to expect, so your only question is: Does Abigail deliver what it promises? The answer is: yes – for the most part. What begins as a tense crime-thriller morphs into a high-octane horror film so smoothly that you cannot see the seams, and even if you already know that the titular kidnap victim is in fact a vampire, you’re going to have fun watching the kidnappers figure it out.

The film gets off to a great start with Abigail being snatched, which goes smoothly enough to make the kidnappers look competent but with just enough of a glitch to show how they work under pressure. Even better, the six members of the team are immediately characterized in ways that make them distinguishable from each other: they may all be crooks, but they occupy different levels on the criminal spectrum. Not only is the Final Girl immediately identifiable (which is a feature, not a flaw, inviting audience empathy); also, every other character has something that makes him or her understandable or even relatable, so that when they start getting picked off, you’re thinking “Oh no!” instead of “Good riddance!” Best of all, the screenwriters wisely omit the worst cliché of heist-type movies: the Hot-Headed Loose Cannon who is guaranteed to throw a monkey wrench into the team’s well-oiled machinery. The closest we get is the driver, who is a little bit spacey and less professional than the rest, but even he does his job without any temperamental screwups.

Anyway, the first half of the film really cooks all the way through the revelation that the kidnappers are locked inside a mansion with their captive, who turns out to be a very hungry vampire ballerina. As if that were not bad enough, the kidnappers are alarmed to learn that Abigail’s father is a Keyser Söze-type crime lord named Kristof Lazar, who is rumored to have had his enemies torn to shreds, and the question becomes: Did the boss who set up the kidnapping know this, and is any member of the team in on the double-cross? The film does a great job depicting criminals with little reason to trust each other trying to form alliances in order to survive, and in spite of the vampire element, the characters’ predicament feels completely credible.

And then…things don’t go downhill, but they do taper off. Events happen less because they grow organically out of the story and more because the filmmakers wanted them to happen. At one point Abigail flies just so the characters and audience can think, “Holy shit! She flies, too?” Then the power, having served its purpose, is forgotten and never used again. Other vampire powers are employed to facilitate scenes regardless of any internal logic that would keep the story feeling as grounded as it did during the first half. Abigail’s dead victims do not resurrect as vampires, but those she merely bites do transform. How long the process takes depends on whether the filmmakers want to drag out the suspense or just jump right into it. There is even a bit about whether the new vampires are mere puppets of the creator or maintain their own will, and the way it is done is the exact opposite of what would seem to make sense. (Remember how, in the novel Dracula, the Count fed blood to Mina to make her his slave? In Abigail, a vampire feeds blood to his victim in order to make them independent. Say what?)

For the most part, the directors’ style is so enjoyably over-the-top that one is eager to overlook these contrivances, but eventually they stretch willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. Midway through, the kidnappers subdue Abigail with the drug they used to abduct her. Considering that the whole kidnap plan turns out to be a setup, the audience has assumed she was faking sleep the first time, but the film expects us to believe that injection really works. This is so obviously a plot device that you have to shake your head and ponder the absurdity: Abigail is virtually invulnerable: bullets don’t phase her; crosses and garlic don’t work, and wooden stakes are problematic when employed against a moving target. Even her hand, burned to a crisp by sunlight, begins to heal almost immediately. But somehow barbiturates can render her unconscious?

Forget the vampire chick. Check out those slats on the right and ask why the characters don’t just break through them to freedom.

The breaking point comes when a pair of characters go searching for a control room in hope of disabling the tech that is keeping them trapped inside the mansion. As they search a long dark corridor, sunlight is filtering through what looks like flimsy slats of wood, yet no one ever thinks to try ripping out thae slats and breaking the windows (which would probably be much easier than their previous effort at digging through a brick fireplace).

At this point, the filmmakers are no longer politely asking but rather rudely demanding that we turn off our brains and enjoy the third act’s gleeful gore-fest – which, to be honest, is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s just mildly disappointing that the filmmakers are expecting us to do the heavy lifting on their behalf, after the first part of the film worked so hard to earn our credence.


Abigail Film Review: Conclusion

Abigail film review
Joey (Melissa Barrera) ends up as blood-soaked as Grace in READY OR NOT.

In case the nitpicking above seems unduly harsh, we’re just grumpy because Abigail seemed to promise more than it delivered, even though what it delivered was still very good. The script is filled with clever touches such as giving the kidnappers pseudonyms based on the Rat Pack (the not-so-smart member of the team takes a while to figure this out and consistently says “Wrinkles” when referring to his partner in crime nicknamed after Don Rickles). Actress Melissa Barrera is now our second favorite final girl (after Ready or Not‘s Samara Weaving); the other actors are also great, even the ones given relatively little screen time. The cinematography and set design perfectly set the scene for what transpires, and the directorial team nails a tone that makes this unlikely genre hybrid both funny and frightening.

As wild as the ride gets, Abigail never completely jumps off the rails. The internal conflicts established early in the film pay off with a final confrontation that is not only an outrageously blood-soaked climax but also a satisfying showdown between the main opponents, in which shifting alliances create an unexpected partnership that takes down the reprehensible antagonist. That’s a fancy way of saying you will whoop with approval when the aggressive dickhead gets his ass kicked by a pair of characters who have little in common except their joint hatred of said dickhead.

But if dramatic resolution is not your thing, don’t worry. This big finish also includes lots of bodies exploding like blood-filled balloons – an effect that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett reuse from Ready or Not (and maybe overuse), but at least it leaves Abigail‘s final girl caked in as much dried blood as Weaving was wearing by the end of the 2019 film, so there’s some stylistic consistency if that’s the sort of think you’re looking for.

While we’re on the subject of recurring motifs, both Ready or Not and Abigail have frequently mentioned villains who remain offscreen until putting in a cameo during the final moments. In this case, we get Matthew Goode as Abigail’s father, who demurs when addressed as Kristof Lazar, noting, “I have gone by many names.” The inside joke here is that Abigail began development as a riff on Universal Picture’s 1936 film Dracula’s Daughter. Only the barest hint of this remains in the finished film (a moment or two when Abigail offers cryptic hints about her relationship with her absent father); nevertheless, it is easy to imagine that one of Lazar’s past names was indeed Count Dracula. (If so, this would make him the second Count since 2022’s The Invitation who declines to self-identify by his true name.) In any case, Abigail was made to stand on its own without being overtly tied to Universal’s roster of classic monsters, but it certainly would be easy to make a sequel that lets the bat out of the bag. That we would love to see.

Abigail (Universal Pictures, 2024)
3

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Abigail is scary and funny in a good way, and we enjoyed it much more than the similarly structured From Dusk Till Dawn. We would have rated it higher, but we were disappointed by the way it went from being fully convincing (despite the supernatural premise) to adopting a “let’s just make crazy stuff happen for the hell of it” attitude.

Abigail is currently in nationwide release, including numerous engagements in the Los Angeles area.

Cast: Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Will Catlett, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud, Alisha Weir, Giancarlo Esposito, Matthew Goode.

Credits: Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett. Written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick. Produced by William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Paul Neinstein, Tripp Vinson, Chad Villella. Cinematography Aaron Morton. Edited by Michael Shawver. Music by Brian Tyler. Rated R. 109 mins. U.S. Theatrical Release Date: April 19, 20024.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.