‘Abigail’ Review: Melissa Barrera And Dan Stevens Battle Dracula’s Child In Cheeky Vampire Flick

Universal has struggled to in recent years to bring back its classic horror franchises like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, etc., attempts that were perhaps too literal. But thanks to the filmmaking collective known as Radio Silence they have, with Abigail, perhaps stumbled onto a way to keep the party going. In this case it is back to the immortal vampire story to end them all, Dracula, but here the bloodsucking title star is his 12-year-old daughter, not the infamous man himself who is reduced to a mere cameo.

Last year the studio tried a variation on the tale with Renfield, which starred Nicholas Hoult as the sidekick to Nicolas Cage’s campy take on the legend but lost its way. I am happy to report that using a blend of a heist flick married to ghoulish and grand over-the-top supernatural bloodletting does the trick in Abigail, a movie that at its heart (albeit with a stake in it) is a LOL comedy to boot.

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Not to be confused with killer doll movies like Annabelle, this young girl is such a seemingly innocent budding ballerina it comes as a shock to see her whole-hog transformation into daddy’s little demon later in the film. Alisha Weir, morphing into the most terrifying child since Linda Blair got an Oscar nomination for doing it in 1973’s The Exorcist, is the title star who becomes the victim of a kidnapping plot by a group of badass, but kinda dumb, criminals enlisted by Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito, in for a couple of scenes), who has been hired to bring them together by an unseen but fearsome crime boss in order to snatch Abigail and demand a $50 million ransom to be paid by her very wealthy father. The job goes relatively easy as they infiltrate the family mansion and steal her away to a deserted, gothic-like house while awaiting payment for the gig. But as they will soon learn this is no ordinary job. “I am so sorry for what is about to happen to you,” Abigail innocently says at one point to one of her clueless kidnappers.

At this point we get to know this oddball team just as they get to know each other since they have been individually selected for their uniquely different talents including the driver, the sniper, the medic, the muscle, the hacker, and the thin man (aka head of ops). They do not know the real identity of each other and have been given other names. Thus we meet Joey (Melissa Barrera), who seems the smartest and most organized of the bunch, someone who can get right down to business and assess some of the dimwits she is stuck with. They include the intense and frenetic Frank (Dan Stevens), the flighty blonde Sammy (Kathryn Newton), Rickles (Will Catlett), Peter (Kevin Durand) and Dean (the late Angus Cloud), all as it turns out with backgrounds that belie their collective lack of intelligence when asked to work as one on this mission.

Watching this unfold I kept thinking of Agatha Christie’s endlessly copied and remade And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians), and sure enough later in the movie the screenwriters, Stephen Shields and Guy Busick, do indeed reference that inspiration quite literally. Any casual moviegoer knows when you gather a group of strangers in a dilapidated mansion, one by one they are going to be goners. It is just a matter of time — and how. After a lot of bickering between them, plus the discovery that Abigail is no ordinary little ballerina, we start to see some imaginative, bloodcurdling sequences, and the movie earns it stripes in the genre; this is definitely hard-R horror. Of course, with Frank leading the resistance, they turn on each other in a bid to survive as Abigail shows she inherited the family genes and talent for sucking the blood out of their misbegotten plans while at the same time niftily shows off her balletic talents in dispensing with this crowd.

Although I have been getting weary of the same old tropes used in so many horror films of late, the endless parade of sequels doing basically the same thing, Abigail is actually a lot of fun, perhaps part of its inspiration coming for a lesser-known 1936 Universal classic, Dracula’s Daughter, but still a completely different storyline than that one. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (aka Radio Silence), who managed to freshen up the tired Scream franchise over the last two installments and are also responsible for the original Ready Or Not, show a real flair for injecting humor and horror in equal doses into the proceedings and really keep this thing building to the inevitable crescendo required of such a premise. Short of giving this material to a genius like Guillermo del Toro, they do a fine job in bringing it all to life, helped enormously by Brian Tyler’s sensational Grand Guignol-style score.

You can see why Stevens, an otherwise serious actor, might want to take on a gonzo role like Frank as he completely devours it without a worry that too much is, uh, too much. Barrera, who worked with the directors on Scream, shows she also has the chops for this sort of thing. Newton is pure fun, as is Durand who gets some of the best lines. Cloud has the real nutso character but sadly is out of the film much too early, though it’s enough to shows the potential the Euphoria star had for creating some out-there characters. Gone way too soon. The film is dedicated to him.

Producers are William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Paul Neinstein, Tripp Vinson and Chad Villella (the latter also part of Radio Silence).

Title: Abigail
Distributor: Universal
Release date: April 19, 2024
Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Screenwriters: Stephen Shields and Guy Busick
Cast: Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Will Catlett, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud, Alisha Weir, Giancarlo Esposito, Matthew Goode
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 49 min

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