Abigail Is a Blood-Soaked, Wickedly Funny Horror Showcase

Movies Reviews Radio Silence
Abigail Is a Blood-Soaked, Wickedly Funny Horror Showcase

The crew at Radio Silence knows how to build an ensemble, as evidenced by their work assembling a new cast to merge with the old in 2022’s Scream and forging the dysfunctional family dynamics of Ready or Not. But the filmmaking collective led by directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and producer Chad Villella are more than great shoppers for the ingredients; they can also really cook. The ingredients are assembled again for the group’s latest feature, Abigail, a new take on Universal’s classic Dracula’s Daughter story, albeit one with an entirely different story dreamed up by writers Stephen Shields and Guy Busick. As with their previous major releases, Radio Silence brings the right atmosphere, the right blend of horror and comedy, and a great ensemble cast led by some seasoned horror performers. It’s a beautifully set table, but Abigail really comes alive when Radio Silence flips that table and sprays it with gore, transforming a high concept into a chaotic, gleefully gruesome piece of popcorn horror.

The girl of the title, played by Alisha Weir, looks like a cute young ballerina with a rich father. But, as every trailer for the film has informed us, she’s actually a vicious and clever vampire, which spells lots of troubles for the sextet of kidnappers who’ve been hired to abduct her for a hefty ransom. The kidnappers, each given Reservoir Dogs-style codenames derived from the names of the Rat Pack, have all taken this job with very few details, drawn in by the gig’s seeming simplicity and a promised payout that’s too good to pass up.

It’s only supposed to take about 24 hours of keeping Abigail at a spooky old country house before the ransom money pours in,  so everyone – Frank (Dan Stevens), Dean (Angus Cloud), Sammy (Kathryn Newton), Joey (Melissa Barrera), Peter (Kevin Durand), and Rickles (William Catlett) – decides to get a little drunk, try to relax, and wait for the long day to end in piles of cash. Right away, though, Joey senses something is wrong, particularly when Abigail starts to peel back her scared little girl persona just enough to let some not-so-veiled threats slip through. Soon, intrigue, paranoia, and sheer brutality emerge, as the kidnappers begin to realize they’re in way, way over their heads.

The audience will likely know more than the characters about their predicament; the film’s whole marketing hook is that Abigail is not what she seems. That means Busick and Shields’ script has to do a particularly deft dance that’s simultaneously setting the table for what’s to come and not losing the audience in a mess of boring mystery leading up to a reveal that we already see coming. It’s tricky, but it works thanks to the film’s winning combination of humor and sheer, gruesome terror. 

And that combination, by extension, works because of the cast, led with gleeful commitment from Barrera, Stevens and especially Newton, who steals every single scene she’s in as a hacker chick who’s completely overwhelmed by everything she’s seeing, hearing and feeling. Barrera is once again tasked with playing the steadfast fighter of the group, while Stevens is set up as her foil, a would-be tough guy who might be an evil genius or might just be a dick. Either way, their interplay forms a key structural component of the film, and they play off each other masterfully. Throw in more scene-stealing from Durand and the late, great Cloud, and you’ve got an ensemble horror piece that never lets up on the comedy, or the sense of overwhelming fear and panic clouding everyone’s judgment (at one point in Abigail, a character goes to get garlic and comes back instead with a bag of onions, and it’s a gag that completely works). 

At the core of it all, though, is Weir, whose grasp of Abigail’s dual nature is both invigorating and remarkably laced with subtleties that come through even when she’s under heavy vampire makeup. She’s so wonderfully game for all the over-the-top moments, and yet she’s also aware that she has to play an eternal child, a killer trapped in a tiny body, and a bloodthirsty monster who mixes ballet with murder in ways that would make M3GAN jealous. It’s a dynamite performance, complemented over and over again by the film’s insistence on putting the pedal all the way to the floor with the horror elements.

While it’s certainly not the most frightening horror film you’ll see this year, Abigail might end up holding the title of the goopiest, goriest mainstream studio release of 2024. Bettenelli-Olpin and Gillett, no strangers to over-the-top violence, keep building and building on every injury, every kill, every new piece of vampire lore they lace into the narrative, until by the end there’s blood on every surface, bodies popping like grapes, and a sense of seat-of-your-pants joy that will have fans of gore effects cheering. For seasoned horror fans, it’s that sense of gory fun that will shine through most. Abigail is a brutal, bloody blast.

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Writers: Stephen Shields, Guy Busick
Starring: Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Alisha Weir, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand
Release date: April 19, 2024

Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.

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