Abigail – movie review

Abigail is a gory hybrid of crime drama, horror and comedy with a black streak of humour. And it proves to be one of the guilty pleasures of the year.

A disparate group of six people are assembled to carry out a kidnapping. The man organising the kidnapping is Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito). The team consists of Frank (Dan Stevens), an ex-cop who has done some shady work for a criminal organisation; Joey (Melissa Barrera), a former army medic and recovering drug addict; Rickles (William Catlett), a former marine sniper; Sammy (Kathryn Newton), a gifted hacker who is able to tap into security systems and disable alarms; Peter (Kevin Durand), the dimwitted muscle and enforcer of the group; and Dean (the late Angus Cloud), the ace getaway driver and sociopath. The gang have been given their pseudonyms from Frank Sinatra’s legendary Rat Pack of the 60s. All five have shady pasts and secrets that make them especially vulnerable and morally compromised. Their victim is Abigail (Alisha Weir), a twelve-year-old ballet-obsessed girl.

The kidnapping goes off without a hitch and the five settle into a secluded mansion to await the payment of a $50 million ransom. The plan seems simple enough – all they have to do is babysit the victim for 24 hours until the ransom payoff and then they can all go their separate ways. Tensions are already running high within the group as they begin to suspect that something is not quite right about their mission. But when they learn the identity of Abigail’s father – Kristof Lazar, a powerful and ruthless figure with tentacles reaching into the highest levels of business, government and even the underworld – they begin to panic and discuss their options. But then just when they consider leaving the girl behind and escaping the house they find themselves sealed in.

And to make matters worse they discover that Abigail is not a sweet and innocent little girl, but rather a centuries-old vampire with a thirst for blood. (Unfortunately, this plot twist was revealed in the film’s trailer and advertising material, thus ruining the surprise.) What started out as a simple kidnapping quickly becomes a battle for survival as they fight against a malevolent force. Cue buckets of blood and gore and some exploding bodies. Abigail offers up some visceral thrills and is certainly not for the squeamish. Some of the kills are quite inventive but laced with a streak of the black humour that has become one of the trademarks of the filmmakers.

Abigail is a loose reworking of the 1936 horror film Dracula’s Daughter, but the story has been given a contemporary makeover. Abigail was written by Stephen Shields (The Hole In The Ground) and Guy Busick (a frequent collaborator of the directors), who operate under the collective name of Radio Silence. It plays around with some of the usual tropes of the vampire genre. The characters are well drawn and fleshed out enough to make us care about their plight.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Oplin and Tyler Gillett are familiar with the horror genre, having previously given us Ready Or Not and the rebooted Scream, and their direction is slick. They make the most of the confined and limited sets – the film was largely shot in a mansion in Ireland – to add to the claustrophobic tension. Cinematographer Aaron Morton does a good job with the visuals.

There are solid performances from a cast that seem attuned to the tone of the material. Cast largely against type, Stevens (Downton Abbey) has a blast here and chews the scenery. Barrera (Scream VI) has a strong presence and makes for a likeable and resilient heroine. Newton (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) brings a kooky and offbeat quality to her role, while Durand (Winter’s Tale) taps into a hitherto unexplored affinity for physical comedy. Weir (Matilda The Musical) delivers a fairly physical performance here and is excellent as the feral vampire. The film is dedicated to the late Cloud, who passed away shortly after completing his role here. And there is a fascinating last-minute cameo.

Greg King

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