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Abigail review: a wacky thrill ride that has plenty of bite

Melissa Barrera points a gun and Dan Stevens holds a wooden stake in Abigail.
“Abigail is a gloriously gory movie that doesn't pack as much of a punch as Ready or Not, but is more than enough fun on its own.”
  • An extremely game ensemble cast
  • A thrilling, hilarious second act
  • Several sequences of shocking brutality and gothic beauty
  • A number of clunky exposition dumps
  • A third act that's too twisty for its own good
  • An overly long runtime

In their first foray out of the world of franchise filmmaking in five years, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have delivered Abigail. A blood-soaked, modern-day riff on the oft-forgotten 1936 monster movie Dracula’s Daughter, the new film has more in common with its directors’ 2019 breakout horror hit Ready or Not than it does to their two most recent outings, 2022’s Scream 5 and 2023’s Scream 6. Its tone is, like Ready or Not, pure black comedy, and its set pieces are covered in just as much blood and guts as that Samara Weaving-led thriller about an unsuspecting bride who finds herself caught in the middle of a wealthy family’s satanic ritual.

This is, for the most part, a good thing. Scaring you to death has never been Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s greatest strength, but they have always had a knack for sending up genre conventions and shredding your nerves with action sequences that are as playful as they are gruesome. In Abigail, the duo has done both of those things and made a contemporary vampire movie that doesn’t have much of a brain, but offers plenty of bite.

A group of criminals stand in a manor's entryway in Abigail.
Bernard Walsh / Universal Pictures

Penned by Stephen Shields and Ready or Not co-writer Guy Busick, Abigail sees Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett return to the world of single-location horror. Its prologue follows Joey (Melissa Barrera), who’s both a recovering addict with a sweet tooth and an absent mother with a guilty conscience, as she meets up with Frank (Dan Stevens), Sammy (Kathryn Newton), Rickles (William Catlett), Peter (Kevin Durand), and Dean (the late Angus Cloud), the other members of a criminal crew assembled to kidnap Abigail Lazar (Alisha Weir), the young ballerina daughter of the powerful Kristof Lazar (Matthew Goode). The film’s opening minutes see its central crew cleanly capture and transport their target away from the safety of her and her father’s well-guarded home.

A little girl attacks a woman in Abigail.
Universal Pictures

Once they’ve arrived at their remote safe house, their boss, Lambert (an underused Giancarlo Esposito), takes the criminals’ phones and informs them that all they have to do is guard Weir’s Abigail for the 24 hours it’ll take to receive a multimillion-dollar ransom from her father. Tensions quickly flare between some of the team’s members — namely, Barrera’s Joey and Stevens’ Frank — but it’s only after one of them turns up dead that Abigail‘s leads realize they’re not, in fact, in the midst of pulling off the greatest crime of their lives. Instead, they’ve walked straight into a nightmare in which they’re being systematically hunted by Abigail, a seemingly immortal and invulnerable vampire.

Dean’s relaxed attitude toward the whole situation, which Cloud effortlessly portrays, allows space for a few light jokes throughout Abigail‘s first third, but it’s only after Joey and company have realized that there’s much more to their pre-adolescent prisoner than meets the eye that the film goes careening into the realm of full-blown, screwball horror comedy. Its directors are more than comfortable working with the kind of heightened tone and material that Abigail‘s second act brings, but the film’s sudden tonal shift rests almost entirely on the strength of Alisha Weir’s delightfully acidic turn as its eponymous little girl. Fortunately, Weir is more than up to the task. The young actress throws her whole body into the role and gives a darkly funny, physically transformative performance that is befitting of a movie as knowingly silly and cartoonishly violent as Abigail.

Alisha Weir hangs onto Kevin Durand in Abigail.
Bernard Walsh / Universal Pictures

The film’s cast members all prove that they very much understand the assignment they’ve been given, and none more so than Stevens. The Godzilla x Kong actor, who has built a career giving oversized performances that shouldn’t work nearly as well as they do, almost steals the show in Abigail with his hammy, frequently hilarious performance as Frank, a dirtbag with an ego big enough to make him believe he can outsmart a centuries-old vampire. Newton and Durand also stand out as Sammy and Peter, two members of Frank’s crew who emerge as both more and less capable than they appear. As was the case in Ready or Not, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett effectively mine just as much comedy out of the exasperated reactions between Abigail‘s core characters as they do its moments of head-exploding violence.

The directors make the most out of Abigail‘s primary location, a spooky countryside mansion that turns out to have more than a few horrors hidden beneath (and behind) its grand exterior. The film itself isn’t quite as stomach-churningly intense as its makers’ two Scream movies, but it does boast moments of grotesque, gothic beauty, like one character’s macabre midpoint dance with a headless body. The imagination and visual artistry of these moments make Abigail feel, in many ways, like a stylistic step up for Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin.

While Shields and Busick’s script gives each of the film’s characters individual lives and personalities that make its darkly funny story shine brighter, it also relies on multiple clunky exposition dumps designed to retroactively explain several major plot twists. Clocking in at 109 minutes, Abigail sticks around 15 minutes longer than it should as well, and it overcomplicates its climax with a series of left turns that don’t make your mouth drop so much as they make you squint your eyes in confusion. The movie’s specific brand of horror comedy demands that it find the right balance between tongue-in-cheek cleverness and outright absurdity. For most of its runtime, Abigail does just that, but it loses its footing a little in its final 20 minutes.

Abigail | Official Trailer 2

As similar to Ready or Not as it is, Abigail lacks the extra edge of feminine rage that lifted its predecessor up to greater heights. The film tries to take its de facto lead, Barrera’s Joey, on a similar grueling journey to the one Weaving’s Grace endures in Ready or Not. However, the character is too roughly defined and Barrera is too muted of a performer for the similarities between Joey and Claire’s stories to take on any greater meaning. Even by its directors’ standards, Abigail is a decidedly superficial film, and that stops it short of leaving any lasting marks. It does successfully sink its teeth into you on more than one occasion, though, and the fun it has while doing so is just as infectious as any vampire bite.

Abigail is now playing in theaters.

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Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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