Review: ‘Abigail’

Bite-Sized Vampire Ballerina Makes For A Bloody Good, B-Movie Horror Comedy

Horror can be extremely limiting, but the best filmmakers in the genre know how to explore cinematic violence in a multitude of ways. The duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, aka Radio Silence, have proven with films such as Ready or Not and the recent Scream films that they are pros at both maximizing violence and humor, with a steady of tension to keep audiences on their toes. Abigail is everything they do well all rolled into one extremely funny, absurdly gory, wildly entertaining package, while also showing that they could also make an awesome monster movie, too.

Loosely inspired by Dracula’s Daughter, the Universal Monsters 1936 “classic” (It’s pretty terrible, honestly) favored by screenwriter Guy Busick and Stephen Shields, Abigail is everything the trailer promises and more. It is indeed about a group of clueless crooks who kidnap a ballet-dancing, bite-sized child vampire, but that’s only the beginning. Played with gusto and M3GAN-like dance skills by Alisha Weir, the titular kiddo comes across as the innocent child of a rich, inattentive businessman. The crew of quirky criminals, all of clashing personality types and various levels of professionalism, snatch her straight away from ballet class, scooting away with a minimum of fuss.

There are rules to this game, naturally.  Giancarlo Esposito brings his typical suave authority to the role of Lambert, the brains behind this operation. There are to be no real names, no cell phones, no personal info shared between them. The hard part of the job is over, and now it’s just “babysitting” inside of a giant gothic mansion laid out like a maze. 24 hours later, they’ll all be $50M richer, and nobody has to get hurt…right? When has that ever turned out right?

The whole “getting to know” the characters bit is a big part of the fun, because it’s woven in so seamlessly. No big information dumps, thankfully. Most of what we learn comes from their individual actions, and a scene where the protective Joey (Melissa Barrera, controversial ex-star of Radio Silence’s Scream movies) figures out everyone’s sordid past. There’s dim-witted hired muscle Peter (Kevin Durand), who takes way too long to figure out they’ve all been nicknamed after Rat Pack members. Rickles (William Catlett, impressive in a small role) is the serious-minded military sniper; Sammy (Kathryn Newton) is the cute computer hacker, who has caught the eye of drunken, troublesome wheelman Dean (the late Angus Cloud). And then there’s Lambert’s second-in-command, Frank, with Dan Stevens playing the control freak with a violent streak, a role he has played in various ways many times before and for good reason.

There’s no twist in learning that Abigail is secretly a hungry vampire, but it’s also not quite so simple. There are swerves galore as the blood gets thick and the crew starts getting picked off. You’re dealing with a bunch of bad folks, and while some are more sympathetic than others, like poor stupid Peter, they all have self-interest at heart which makes their attempts to work together pretty hilarious. Throw in that they’re trying to figure out what actually works against a vampire and their survival instincts are comically skewed. In a nice bit, Sammy mistakes onions for garlic, a potentially fatal vegetable mistake.

Abigail ramps up the campiness and B-movie goodness in the final stretch, with so much gore it literally explodes all over the screen. There’s so much it could make some moviegoers a bit queasy, which is exactly the right sensation. While the conclusion is a little too sweet and perfect considering all that we’ve just witnessed, Abigail sinks its teeth into you early, and has you hoping this junior vampire ballerina comes out for an encore.

Universal will release Abigail into theaters on April 19th.

Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
abigail-52357Horror can be extremely limiting, but the best filmmakers in the genre know how to explore cinematic violence in a multitude of ways. The duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, aka Radio Silence, have proven with films such as Ready or Not and...