ABIGAIL Review: Ballet Gets Bloody Entertaining

Melissa Barrera and Dan Stevens are would-be kidnappers trapped with a monster child

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
ABIGAIL Review: Ballet Gets Bloody Entertaining

It's a juggling act to get an entertaining horror film - one that's fun, funny, yet still scary, with a good share of violence and gore, a decent story with snappy dialogue, and a monster that an audience can root for, maybe more than the heros. Radio Silence - directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and producer Chad Villella - have been (mostly) pulling this off, with a particular formula that has worked with slasher and pseudo-slasher films such as Ready or Not and Scream (2022).

If it isn't broken, don't fix it, and hence we have Abigail. A solid piece of horror action comedy, a story that moves from crime caper to pseudo-slasher with an engaging monster, it's not without its flaws, but it's got the quips, the gore, and the twists to keep an audience charmed.

A group of criminals are hired by the mysterious Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) to kidnap Abigail (Alisha Weir) - though they're not told in advance that their target is a child. Nonetheless, they pull off the deed and take her to a mansion in the countryside. There, Frank (Dan Stevens), Joey (Melissa Barrera), Peter (Kevin Durand), Sammy (Kathryn Newton), Dean (Angus Cloud) and Rickles (William Catlett) (and yes, if those character names seem oddly familiar, there's a reason). All they have to do is hold up in this house for 24 hours, by which time, Lambert assures them, the kid's father will pay the ransom. Except they find out the kid's father is the most terrifying crime boss in town - and suddenly, they're locked inside with no way out. Oh, and the kid's not quite what she seems.

Although the trailer and poster already give away the major 'twist' about Abigail, it's to the filmmaker's credit that they take their time getting there. The strongest and arguably most entertaining part of the story comes in the first half, in the chemistry and banter between the characters. To protect their anonymity, they don't know each other at all, and that means a lack of trust. They are mixed bag: the too-smart ex-cop, the smart but damaged medic, the dumb muscle, the cocky driver, ex-army. All of the actors are bringing their a-game, and seem to be enjoying the heck out of themselves. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett give them the necessary material to have full characters and have fun with the story. Watching them trying to figure each other out, decide who to trust (or not), who should be in charge - the sensible Joey or the authoratative Frank - makes it almost disappointing when the proverbial sh*t and literally blood hits the fan.

But it's hard to resist a slim 12-year-old ballerina who pirouettes and spins and then bares her fangs to pounce on her prey, not only splattering their blood everywhere, but quite literally ripping them apart. The lockbox thriller becomes a horror as the kidnappers get picked off one by one - some through negligence, but most just because Abigail is stronger and faster, and knows the layout. More twists are coming - none surprising, but still entertaining, and smart enough that clearly the filmmakers thought it through without throwing a twists in just for the sake of it.

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When the group realizes what they are up against, there is both the natural refusal to believe it, and logical assessment of how to eliminate the monster - since they have no idea if any of the rumoured ways to kill a vampire actually works (and they have the chance to test these theories). Also, you have a monster who is both a few hundred years old, and yet still a child: everything is still a game to her, a talented yet petulant and vulnerable child who is both burdened by her role in this world, and yet still gleefully plays with her prey.

Still, despite some very good kills and a good reveal, the energy starts to lag around the 90-minute mark - it feels like they couldn't help themselves to add in just one or two more twists, or couldn't bear to do some necessary cuts that would have kept the movie at a better pace. Also, I don't know if it was the film or the projection, but I kept wondering if there was a global lightbulb shortage.

While in the internet age, spoilers abound even mere hours after a film's release, it's disappointing to know that so much of this film would be better served by not giving away the monster in the marketing. You'd likely get more out of Abigail the less you knew in advance. Still, the film is mostly a smart and enjoyable ride, with snapping dialogue, well-rounded characters, some fun action and gory kills, to make it worth your time.

Abigail releases in cinemas worldwide on Friday, April 19th from Universal Pictures.

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AbigailAlisha WeirDan StevensGiancarlo EspositoKathryn NewtonKevin DurandMelissa Barrera

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