Original title:Abigail
Director:Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Running time:109 minutes
Release date:19 april 2024
Following the kidnapping of the daughter of a powerful underworld tycoon, a group of amateur criminals thought they simply had to lock up and guard the young ballerina in order to claim a $50 million ransom. Holed up in an isolated mansion, the kidnappers mysteriously begin to disappear, one after the other, as the night progresses. It's then that they discover, to their horror, that the little girl they're locked up with is nothing ordinary.

Mulder's Review

Abigail, the latest work from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, known for their work on Ready or Not” and the recent Scream sequels, is a film that boldly fuses the genres of thriller and horror into a chaotic, blood-soaked spectacle. The film is as much a journey into the absurd and grotesque as it is an exploration of dark humor and character dynamics, setting it apart from contemporary horror cinema.

The story begins with a set-up that could easily belong to an Agatha Christie novel or a Quentin Tarantino film. A group of disparate criminals is recruited for a seemingly straightforward kidnapping. Their target is a 12-year-old ballerina named Abigail, whom they must hold for ransom in exchange for a large sum of money. Using Rat Pack-inspired code names, the criminals form a motley crew with distinct personalities and backgrounds. They include Joey (Melissa Barrera), the savvy nurse; Frank (Dan Stevens), the cynical ex-cop; Sammy (Kathryn Newton), the spirited computer hacker; Peter (Kevin Durand), the lovable hulk; Dean (Angus Cloud), the stoned getaway driver; and Rickles (William Catlett), the stoic sharpshooter. Their superior, Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), orchestrates the operation, offering a veneer of professionalism that quickly crumbles.

Alisha Weir shines in the role of Abigail, initially presented as a sweet, innocent child. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Abigail is far from ordinary. She's a centuries-old vampire with a deadly mix of innocence and malice. This revelation, though hinted at in the film's marketing, doesn't detract from the shock and horror the characters feel when they discover the true nature of their captive.

The film's first act meticulously establishes the group dynamic and individual stories, creating a foundation of tension and anticipation. Joey emerges as the anti-heroine, her maternal instincts and street smarts making her the emotional core of the film. Barrera's portrayal of Joey is both nuanced and convincing, lending the film a sense of realism amidst the supernatural chaos that ensues.

As the plot unfolds, the mansion - brilliantly designed by Susie Cullen - becomes a character in its own right. This eerie, labyrinthine setting is filled with hidden passages and macabre surprises, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that reinforces the film's horror elements. The filmmakers use this setting to great effect, creating sequences that are both visually stunning and intensely suspenseful.

The entire cast is one of the film's greatest strengths, with each actor bringing depth and charisma to his or her role. Dan Stevens stands out as Frank, delivering his lines with a menacing charm that makes his character both detestable and captivating. The character of Sammy, played by Kathryn Newton, provides much of the film's comic relief, her tech-savvy persona navigating horror with wit and resilience. Kevin Durand's portrayal of Peter adds an endearing touch of simplicity and loyalty, making his character one of the most sympathetic.

Alisha Weir's performance as Abigail is simply remarkable. She moves effortlessly from the image of a frightened child to that of a vicious predator, her dual nature adding a layer of complexity to the character. Weir's ability to convey both innocence and malevolence makes Abigail one of the most memorable characters in recent horror cinema.

The film's pace is deliberately measured in the first act, allowing for a slow build-up of tension and character development. While this approach may seem lethargic to some, it pays off once the horrific elements kick into high gear. The script, written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick, balances character-driven moments with intense horror sequences, even if it sometimes relies on dialogue heavy on explanation.

Abigail's climax is a masterpiece of gore and practical effects, showcasing Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett's commitment to visceral, tangible horror. The directors don't beat around the bush, delivering a series of creative, gruesome murders that are both shocking and infused with dark humor. This preference for practical effects over CGI enhances the film's impact, making the horror more immediate and real.

Abigail also indulges in a meta-commentary on vampire history, playing with classic tropes and subverting them. The film acknowledges its predecessors, from Dracula's Daughter to modern hits like “M3GAN”, while carving out its own unique place in the genre. This self-awareness adds a layer of depth to the story, inviting the audience to engage with the film on multiple levels.

In addition to horror and humor, Abigail tackles themes of redemption and parenthood. Joey's journey is not only a struggle for survival, but also a quest for redemption, as she confronts her past mistakes and seeks to protect Abigail. This emotional undercurrent adds emotion to the film, making Joey's struggle more understandable and her character more sympathetic.

Despite its many strengths, Abigail is not without its faults. Pacing problems in the first act can make the build-up feel slow, and the film sometimes struggles to balance its many narrative threads. The script's reliance on exposition can sometimes feel heavy-handed, detracting from the organic interactions between the characters.

Nevertheless, Abigail succeeds in delivering a thrilling, bloody experience that will satisfy fans of horror and black comedy. Solid performances, inventive direction and macabre effects make this a memorable addition to the genre. While the film doesn't revolutionize vampire cinema, it offers a fresh and entertaining take on familiar tropes, making it a must-see for horror fans.

Abigail is a wildly entertaining film that combines elements of horror, comedy and thriller into a coherent, captivating whole. Its solid casting, inventive direction and commitment to practical effects set it apart in contemporary horror cinema. While not perfect, this film offers a unique and enjoyable experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Written by Stephen Shields, Guy Busick
Produced by William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Paul Neinstein, Tripp Vinson, Chad Villella
Starring Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Will Catlett, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud, Alisha Weir, Giancarlo Esposito
Cinematography : Aaron Morton
Edited by Michael Shawver
Music by Brian Tyler
Production companies : Project X Entertainment, Vinson Films, Radio Silence Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures (United States), United Pictures International France (France)
Release dates : April 7, 2024 (Overlook Film Festival), April 19, 2024 (United States), May 29, 2024 (France)
Running time : 109 minutes

Viewed on May 10, 2024 (VOD)

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