Abigail

Blood and gore are long-time staples of the horror genre. The question every filmmaker has to ask is how much they want to lean on those elements. It’s entirely possible to make a scary movie that’s not particularly graphic. Other times, though, the story can benefit from leaning into the carnage. Abigail is one of those cases. This is a breathtakingly gory picture that, frankly, wouldn’t be as entertaining if it were subtle. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Scream VI, Ready or Not) hit that balance where the bloodshed sells the danger the characters are in while also serving to provide a few dark laughs.

The tale concerns a group of criminals brought together by a man named Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) for a high-paying job. They don’t know each other and go by the names of Rat Pack members. Among them are former cop Frank (Dan Stevens), computer hacker Sammy (Kathryn Newton), and recovering addict Joey (Melissa Barrera). Their mission is to kidnap a 12-year-old ballerina named Abigail (Alisha Weir), then demand millions of dollars from her wealthy father for her return. What they don’t know – and find out the hard way - is that the child is a vampire. The mansion they’re hiding her out in is sealed shut, leaving them trapped inside for 24 hours.

Why is the kid a ballerina? Who knows. Regardless, it allows her to do pirouettes and Pliés when attacking her victims. That plays cooler than it may sound, giving the girl a unique form of menace. Weir is the rare child actor who can convincingly play monster, too. Watching her switch between “sweet and innocent” and “bloodthirsty” is a hoot. Abigail gives M3GAN a run for her money.

The movie develops her character in a striking manner. There’s far more to Abigail than we initially expect. Everybody else is similarly provided with a distinct quality that allows them to amusingly collide. Newton and Kevin Durand (as Peter, the “muscle” of the group) offer comic relief with their quirkiness. Stevens makes Frank a livewire prone to rash decisions, and Barrera puts an injection of heart into the proceedings, as Joey has a backstory involving the son who was neglected because of her substance use. Seeing these disparate individuals alternately cooperate and clash as they try to outwit the tween vampire is as much fun as the kills.

Ah, yes, the kills. They’re glorious. Because Abigail takes the time to establish the personalities of its characters, the violence means something. People are injured or killed creatively, leaving many of the actors covered in whatever effects technicians use to simulate blood and guts. Showing it this explicitly helps to establish an over-the-top tone that befits the plot. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett seek to capture that quality where an outrageous horror premise takes viewers on a wild ride. Excess gore accomplishes that goal. It’s gross, yet also kind of funny at times.

A fine ensemble cast is another plus, with Barrera proving a particular standout. She gives Joey a nice mixture of toughness and vulnerability. The screenplay by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick is full of twists that ensure the movie never gets predictable. Rules of the central scenario are rewritten a couple times over. That combination of quality performances, sharp writing, and exaggerated violence turns Abigail into a fast-paced pleasure for viewers who like balls-to-the-wall horror with a comedic edge.


out of four

Abigail is rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and pervasive language, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

Universal

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan