‘Abigail’ Review: Shall We Vamp?

User Rating: 6

Creepy kid movies tend to work on me. Turn them into literal monsters, and you’re ideally only upping the ante in my favor. Abigail is a movie about a vampire. I’m saying that upfront, as I could try to tap dance around it, but it will only help to say it now. Years from now, separated from its marketing, it will surely be a pleasant surprise to discover a movie like this and the surprises it holds. As it stands, even without knowing exactly what the premise is building toward by the end of its first act, one has to know this little girl is more than meets the eye. Fortunately, the tricks she and this film have up its sleeves are largely entertaining. I wish it used its runtime more wisely and that the writing was a bit sharper, but I can’t deny how much fun it is to see excess gore accompany a movie like this.

The film focuses on a group of kidnappers who abduct Abigail (Alisha Weir) and are instructed to watch her for 24 hours while the ransom arrangement is handled (she’s said to be worth $50 million). Our misbegotten group is told by their handler (Giancarlo Esposito) to hide their identities, so we have several shady characters with aliases. “Joey” (Melissa Barrera), “Frank” (Dan Stevens), “Sammy” (Kathryn Newton), “Peter” (Kevin Durand), “Rickles” (Will Catlett), and “Dean” (the late Angus Cloud). This should be a simple enough babysitting job, but unbeknownst to the crooks, little Abigail is actually much smarter, stronger, older, and deadlier than they would have ever expected.

See Also: ‘The First Omen’ Review: A Period Horror Prequel With A Timely Story

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Abigail is the latest feature from the Radio Silence team, which features director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. They may be coming off of their back-to-back hit Scream films, but this movie feels more like a spiritual successor to their mainstream breakout, Ready or Not. We’re once again in an enclosed space (a large mansion keeping its inhabitants locked inside), and the gallows humor and ensemble interactions are balanced with heaps of carnage and blood.

For the most part, this is all quite enjoyable. A decent amount of time is spent on the setup, and while having knowledge of where this is all going could make some people antsy, I rather liked being a fly-on-the-wall, watching this randomly assembled gang function like a caricature-heavy version of a new Reservoir Dogs. There’s something to be said for a movie structured to occur over the course of one long night, having a group slowly come to learn about each other, and what they may be capable of.

Of course, it’s a horror movie, so things eventually have to get a lot more spooky and violent. That said, there’s not much of an intent to scare here. Instead, it’s willing to play with a few tropes, letting the characters actually consider what they’ve learned about vampires from other movies. There is no attempt to deliver a Scream-level metacommentary, but in a world where hundreds of vampire films exist, having a bit of self-awareness in 2024 isn’t a bad thing.

Now, Abigail is no From Dusk Till Dawn when it comes to shaking up the genre to go in another direction. Still, it has fun unleashing harm on our cast in a manner that keeps a good balance over wanting to see a vampire in action while also hoping we care a bit about humans making it out of this alive. When things do get dire for certain cast members, however, Abigail doesn’t skimp on the extremes. We’re not talking Evil Dead-level buckets of gore, but Ready or Not is a good source to look at in order to understand just how wild this film is willing to go.

Could this film be doing more though? At 109 minutes, regardless of the amount of setup involved, I did run into a similar issue I’ve found in other Radio Silence productions – utilizing what they have to the greatest effect. This is a solid premise and a strong cast, yet it feels like the script is a few steps away from getting more out of the dialogue and building out more cool things to do with the whole “vampire vs. criminals” conceit. Watching similar scenarios play out among the various characters becomes a bit repetitive. Additionally, for every instance of this film throwing neat vampire abilities at the audience, it then drops it and moves on to something else.

Is there more to Abigail being a ballerina? Could the various characters offer a bit more upon discovering who they all are (we literally receive two different didactic scenes offering information about everyone)? I understand being economical about the elements in play, why specific setups are essential, and other things that can be pushed into the background. However, if the film is willing to aim for a certain level of complexity, perhaps less extended fight scenes could lead to more detail and ideas that would expand on the setup in more intriguing ways.

Am I asking for too much in a movie that feels like the ultimate endpoint for riffing on Home Alone by way of a ballerina vampire? Perhaps, but when watching the latest of many attempts to stake this little girl fail, it became time for me to wonder what other options were available. Having said that, Weir is having a lot of fun playing into the tricky nature of a vampire who enjoys teasing her food. It’s the kind of thing that makes vampires such a versatile and enjoyable movie monster. Plus, yes, the notion of a teenage vampire being all kinds of vile is an easy way to score laughs.

On the human side, Barrera brings the right kind of pathos to her role as, ostensibly, the lead character. Stevens is, once again, cutting loose as the tough guy from Queens who wants to be in control. Anyone who watched The Strain knows Durand can bring a lot of smiles to the audience when he matches his burliness with good comedic timing. Newton finds the right line in how to play the young generation, which is irritating to a point but also someone to root for.

Given Abigail’s intentions, there’s enough working in this film’s favor to make it a fine way to round out the recent spat of Universal-produced vampire flicks. It’s got a killer premise and a fun cast to work with. I wish there was more going on to elevate the material even further. Still, it’s able to make up for it by playing with the horror atmosphere to deliver a variety of bloody set pieces and other twists and turns. The results are not entirely unpredictable, but Abigail had just enough bite in the realm of enjoyable vampire horror comedies.

Abigail opens in theaters on April 19, 2024.

6
Fair
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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