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'Abigail' Is a Violent, Dancing Delight

By Seth Freilich | Film | April 21, 2024 |

By Seth Freilich | Film | April 21, 2024 |


There is another article, for another day, worth looking at exactly when we made the pivot, but man alive, are we in a sneaky, golden age of horror flicks right now? Movies like the recently-released Late Night with the Devil and Immaculate are fully committing to the genre in ways that are smart, winking, and (often) funny. They do not merely recycle the tropes but use them knowingly, playing with and sometimes subverting them. This is a slightly longer way of getting to the point here, which is to say that M3gan walked so that Abigail could run on toe point.

The film opens by introducing us to six nameless characters who do not know each other, a clear “I’ve brought you all here for a heist” setup, and we quickly learn that the heist is the kidnapping of young Abigail (Alisha Weir, Matilda: The Musical). At first, all we know about Abigail is that she is a ballerina who loves dancing to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. As the crew arrives at a secluded home with the kidnapped girl, they meet Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) and learn a bit more - Abigail is the daughter of a wealthy man, and Lambert has arranged all of this so that they can get a cool $50 million from the father. Lambert gives them all names of Rat Packers (“who the fuck is Don Rickles” is a hilarious way to point out the generational divide between Lambert and the much younger crew), and then he bounces, leaving his rats with a twenty-four-hour job of babysitting Abigail.

At this point, Abigail kind of feels like a generic thriller. If you have seen the trailer, you know that the film turns to horror, and you know precisely what that turn is. If you have not seen the trailer, you should stop reading and just watch the movie because I suspect the first half plays better and is a little tauter for those coming in cold. That said, even where trailer knowledge may cause some issues with the first half — particularly that the audience is ahead of the characters, and the film does not use that to any effect — the movie’s second half works for all audiences. And to best explain that, we need to talk about what the trailer reveals, so bounce now if you want to know no more.

For those who have seen the trailer, you know what the Rat Pack eventually figures out, which is that they “kidnapped a fucking vampire,” … “a ballerina vampire,” and this crew has been brought here for her to feast upon. This is revealed wonderfully, and anything lacking in the film’s setup is more than made up for by the second half, which is a violent delight with at least two extended fight scenes that are riotously enjoyable. Abigail comes from the writers and directors of Scream (2022), Scream VI, and Ready or Not. That last one is particularly significant, as this film carries a very similar sense of fun and gore (not to mention the “together in a house” setup).

Everyone watching the movie knows basic vampire lore and the associated tropes, and the film knows we know. So it, and Abigail in particular, have fun with it. Some things we “know” about vampires are not true in this movie, and when the movie shows us that, it does so with a wink and a smile. When the things we know do work, good lord they work in violently delicious ways. The script also has several very funny moments, my favorite probably being this expertly-delivered line in response to a question about what happened: “The head fell off … why do you have a dick on your face?” Trust me, it works in context.

And the reason that and the other jokes work is because of this cast. That line was delivered by Kathryn Newton, who has been crushing it onscreen for years now and is on the top of her game here. I have already mentioned Esposito being in this, and you know he always brings the goods. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew’s sextet is a solid gathering of Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, William Catlett, Kevin Durand, and Angus Cloud. There is plenty to say about each of them, from the heart that Barrera brings to the comedy, to Catlett’s groundedness, to Durand leaning in as the preposterously stupid muscle, but two performances need to be singled out.

The first is Stevens because this man brings it. About halfway through the film, I scribbled a note along the lines of “man, he’s really operating at a full ten.” I was wrong because he waits until later in the film to show us what his ten really is, and it is wonderful. The other performance is what (I believe) is, sadly, the last we will see of Angus Cloud. His “Dean” feels very much on the same bandwidth as his Fezco on Euphoria, and it just works. Cloud spends much of the film acting opposite Newton, and at one point I found myself wistfully wishing for the two of them to be in a rom-com together. That is primarily because when you watch Cloud performing, no matter how dumb or scummy his character may be, you just want the best for him. The film offers a tribute tag at the end for Cloud, and while his career was tragically short, at least he left us with one last solid performance.

All that said, the actor who most pulls Abigail together is Weir as the titular antagonist. One of the best decisions the screenplay makes is to have her little ballerina vampire be one part scarred little girl but five parts sarcastic, bored asshole. Abigail is such a little dick, and the film only works with a performance that can pull it off, which Weir hilariously does. In fact, the rest of the performances are good enough (as noted) such that you do not necessarily miss Weir when the film spends time away from her, but you are always itching for her to come back. Whether she is playing her own little game of psychological manipulation or literally dancing her way through kills, Weir is simply outstanding. Without spoiling the final act set up that the screenplay smartly walks towards, I will tell say that the last line of the film is a character going “…what the fuck?” and it is the perfect chuckle to end on. What a gem of a flick!