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Abigail Film Review: Blood-Soaked Thrill Ride

A vampire dances on a stage with a white ballerina dress soaked in blood in the film Abigail

Universal’s Abigail turns the vampire genre on its head behind a first-rate cast and a script filled with frights, comedy, and gore.

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 109′
Global Release: April 19, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

While Universal’s track record of reimagining their classic monsters for modern audiences has been spotty at best, none of their previous attempts had Radio Silence at the helm. Fresh off their two Scream films, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett bring us Abigail. The film is their take on 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter and it feels incredibly original.

Even as a fan of their previous work, I went in excited but a little nervous. The film was not what I expected when I heard they were taking on something from Universal’s iconic horror library. However, after seeing it, I am more than satisfied with what they have done, and I think horror fans will be too.

Abigail centers on a group of kidnappers who capture and must watch over Abigail (Alisha Weir, of Matilda the Musical), the daughter of a powerful man from whom they demand a $50 million ransom. What starts off as a simple job becomes a nightmare when they discover that Abigail is actually a vampire. Trapped in a house with a tiny bloodsucking killing machine, the group must find a way to survive.

The narrative of Abigail is an adrenaline rush once it finds its footing, which is fitting for a film whose antagonist is a tiny vampire ballerina if you ask me. Things take a minute to get going, since there is a lot to establish during/following an eerie opening credits sequence. Once that is out of the way, you should hold on tight because Radio Silence clearly had a blast crafting this story alongside writers Stephen Shields and Guy Busick. There are interesting twists, new takes on old character tropes, funny moments, and of course, extravagant kills. What truly makes this story soar is that our characters are not just cannon fodder for a vampire; they have their own quirks and a handful of them get compelling arcs. Even those whose arcs are a little lacking have satisfying moments where they get the spotlight.

This journey is so enjoyable and scary, but it also moves at a solid pace. Thankfully, the writers do not move so fast that they make any character development or big moments feel unearned. My guess is this film will also have a ton of rewatch ability in the same way that Ready or Not (2019) does because it is just too much of a fun time to only watch once. What Stephen Shields and Guy Busick have done is even more impressive considering that plenty of other writers have tried to tell a Dracula related story for Universal Studios and failed to capture anyone’s attention because most of them were not particularly great. Hopefully, this film generates enough interest for more interpretations of these classic monsters to see the light of day.

Melissa Barrera, Kathryn Newton and more people stand by a van about to enter a house in the horror film Abigail
Abigail (Universal Pictures)

Of our main human players, Joey (Melissa Barrera, of In the Heights), a mother and the member of the crew who seems more sympathetic towards Abigail, has the best journey. Even if Barrera had not portrayed her, I would have been rooting for Joey because she is the most likable character. She is not perfect, but she feels much more human than the other crew members. Part of that is how she is written, and the other half is Barrera’s performance. In case you did not know it by now, Melissa Barrera is a superstar. Her work in Abigail is nothing short of remarkable. She gives Joey plenty of heart, smarts, and charisma. Barrera also kicks plenty of ass along the way and she is just one of those actors that looks so cool covered in blood. She joins a select group of scream queens that have outstanding lead performances in multiple horror films.

Speaking of scream queens with multiple notches in their belts, Abigail is the second horror film of the year for Kathryn Newton (star of Lisa Frankenstein). She plays Sammy, the hacker of this crew with multiple tattoos. Newton, like Barrera, appears to be at home in horror films and gives a distinct, fun performance. Sammy surprised me, even as a fan of Newton’s acting and I get the feeling that it will be the same for a lot of audience members.

The human cast has a couple more highlights: Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey) turned out to be superb as the mysterious hard ass that is Frank. I knew extraordinarily little of his work and was impressed by how Stevens could fully embody a character that is unlikable from the jump but strangely alluring. Then you have the late Angus Cloud (of Euphoria) who stars as the crew’s wheelman, Dean. Cloud shows off his comedic chops and makes the most of every bit of his screen time. It is such a shame that we lost him so soon, as he passed away shortly after wrapping his work on Abigail.

Of course, I cannot finish talking about this ensemble without showing love to the title character and the person who brought her to life. Alisha Weir’s Abigail is an epic horror villain. At the drop of a hat, she can go from adorable to sending chills down your spine. Those dance sequences of hers are extremely enchanting while also at times having devastating consequences. Putting so much on a young actor can be a gamble and Weir handles everything given to her better than I think anyone could have imagined. She makes Abigail a thrilling character to watch as her arc unfolds.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett just know how to direct a horror film and Abigail serves as further proof of that. The kills here are gruesome and the directors make excellent use of special effects to create some stomach-turning gore. Much like they did with Ready or Not, this pair makes wonderful use of a singular location. The mansion in the film was the right amount of elegant and creepy. It also felt like a character in a way, because Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett kept taking us to different areas as the film went on and each of them was significant to the plot for the most part.

Abigail is a bloody delight and further proof that stories centered around Universal Studios classic monsters can be a success in the right hands. Radio Silence delivers their own take on 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter and manages to make it feel incredibly innovative. This is without question one of the best horror films that we are going to see in 2024.

Abigail will be released globally in theaters on April 19, 2024.

Abigail: Trailer (Universal Pictures)
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