Abigail: Gleeful Horror Fun

I don’t always find horror movies as exhilarating as when I read a horror book. But I do happen to love a good vampire flick. With Abigail depicted as being a child vampire, I was intrigued as to how the writing and story would play out. I have to say I was delighted with the layered storytelling, the vividly dynamic performances and the creepy gorefest, this is one film that is full of gleeful horror fun. 

“Abigail” is a monster horror film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett from a screenplay written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick. As a reimagining of the classic monster film, Dracula’s daughter, a group of would-be criminals kidnap the twelve year old daughter, Abigail, (Alisha Weir) of a powerful underworld figure. In order for the group, Joey (Melissa Barrera), Frank (Dan Stevens), Rickles (Will Catlett), Sammy (Kathryn Newton), Peter (Kevin Durand), and Dean (Angus Cloud) to collect their money, they simply must keep watch over the girl overnight in an isolated mansion but they soon start to dwindle one by one as they discover to their horror, that they’re locked inside with no normal little girl. As they try to figure out if they were set up by their contact Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), a more important question is raised, will any of the group survive the night? And if they do, how many of them will be left?

What makes this film such a thrill ride is the storytelling. As soon as you meet the group, little details catch your eye, like the lollipops Joey keeps in her pockets, the clothes Sammy wears, the language Frank and Peter use, and the bearing of the rifle carrying Rickles. Each character is meticulously built to intrigue the audience, including Abigail. Abigail is introduced with a ballet dance, highlighting her prowess as a dancer at a seemingly young age. Her mannerisms when she meets Joey are emotional. She begs Joey to keep her safe and yet, there are hints to her true nature, a subtle creepiness in her behavior. Joey observes the rest of the crew and quickly figures out their backgrounds, despite the group being told to keep their identities secret. Yet, knowing less about each character actually makes them far more intriguing. And as they begin being hunted, that leads to empathizing with them and rooting for at least some of them to survive. I especially love the sharp analogy between vampires and addiction that the writers use in making Joey a recovering addict. That one bit adds a unique aspect to the film.

The dialogue is witty and Abigail gets some of the best lines, such as “I like to play with my food.” or “It takes time to learn the really cool shit.” The film is wickedly funny, especially the creepy way Alisha Weir portrays Abigail and the interactions between the gang as they try to survive. The reactions are priceless and Kathryn Newton does some of her finest acting in the film, campy, funny and yet scary all at the same time. I also love the truly gory and horrific ways each member of the gang either is hurt or dies. There is some spectacular gore in the movie but it’s done with such style, that I loved the ride.

One of the best elements is Abigail herself. Both the direction and the performance by Alisha Weir is incredible, especially in her physicality. She twists and turns with grace, her movements sharp, creepy and flawlessly smooth as she hunts. The vampire depiction is highly creepy and a touch scary. While the witty aspects keep it from being too scary, the movements of Abigail pull off vicious and predatory in a way I’ve seldom seen in vampire flicks. The vampire depiction is some of the best I’ve seen.

The performances are vividly dynamic. Melissa Barrera infuses her character with warmth. Clearly you are meant to root for her but her portrayal makes Joey the real hero of the film as she intelligently and compassionately makes decisions to help everyone survive, at least a bit longer. Clearly Alisha Weir is witty and incredible in her performance of Abigail, creepy and ruthless. I love how witty her character is and how well Alisha Weir portrays her intelligence. I also love the dynamic between her character and the character of Joey. Even though they are at odds, there is a similarity to the pair. Dan Stevens is outright brilliant and his cutting wit with Joey and Abigail is part of what makes me love this film. He also manages to straddle the line between good and evil, a morally gray character out for himself. Kathryn Newton infuses humor into her character and has one of the finest scenes in the entire film. I can’t spoil it but suffice to say, she does some of her finest acting. Kevin Durand embraces his character of Peter, the muscle man who’s also an alcoholic. He truly shows how diverse his skills are in this character, polar opposite to the one he plays in most films. Angus Cloud and Will Catlett are also intriguing and interesting performances. Giancarlo Esposito as Lambert is interesting.

While I’d like to say this is perfect, it isn’t. As entertaining and thrilling as it was, there are some aspects I didn’t enjoy as much. For one, the film’s marketing spoils much of the film’s premise which is a shame. It would have been more interesting to have been surprised by Abigail’s nature. For another, the film doesn’t have too many surprises. Much of the hunt and actions are foreshadowed right from the beginning. The person I saw the film with even predicted the order in which characters would die. I was disappointed by the lack of screen time Will Catlett gets in the movie. His character and dynamic with Melissa Barrera are incredibly interesting but are never fully realized. Last, while Giancarlo Esposito is normally a favorite of mine, his performance in the latter half of the film felt off, either due to the direction of the film or his own acting, it lacked the high level performance I’m used to. That said, despite these issues, I loved the gore, the creepy, atmospheric thrill ride and the vivid performances. 

If you like monster movies, this is one of the best vampire films I’ve seen. I love the depiction of the vampires, I love the way the monster hunts down prey, and I love the dynamic performances. This film is full of gleeful horror fun, with witty dialogue, well written characters and some interesting layering of storytelling. I love how the characters are depicted and these are some of the best performances in a film, as the actors truly embrace their characters. This is one thrilling ride, even if you know some of the stops, you won’t want to get off until the end. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 suckers. 

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