de facto film reviews 3 stars

Move over, M3gan; there’s a new dancing horror princess in town, and her name is Abigail. The latest genre effort from the hit filmmaking collective Radio Silence (directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) takes a stab at the 1936 Universal classic Dracula’s Daughter, putting an exciting spin—no pun intended—on vampire mythology of old. In this case, Abigail is a balletic romp of monstrous proportions, fluidly blending that trademark Radio Silence wit with plenty of gore and nervy scenes in a big, creepy house. To put it bluntly—and again, no pun intended—Abigail is a blast.

The film’s marketing spoiled it, but Abigail’s plot is a certified “Gotcha!” moment for its protagonists. A group of six criminals (Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, William Catlett, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand, and Angus Cloud), led by the mysterious Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), kidnaps a young girl (Alisha Weir) to hold for ransom. Naturally, she is a centuries-old vampire, cutting short the criminals’ 24-hour-long tenure in their supposed safe house as Abigail embarks on a killing spree. It is a relatively simple premise executed at a high level, with evident confidence from directors Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett and brilliant production design overall.

Abigail - Criminal Group

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

As if you couldn’t tell from the film’s opening scene, which lays a stylized version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake theme (a classical piece that has become almost synonymous with gothic horror and monster movies, notably Dracula) over a dancing Abigail, the film is a creature feature with dark and moody undertones. However, in true Radio Silence fashion and attributing to other modern-day horror flicks of the same style, Abigail also offers some sharp dialogue, wry humor, and additional light-hearted moments to soften the otherwise exhilarating horror and action scenes. In a way, Abigail feels like From Dusk Till Dawn, featuring a tense first act leading to a tonal shift when the vampire(s) come around.

The combination of horror and sardonic dark humor works here, aided by the idea of a ballerina vampire and the performances of Weir, Durand, and Newton, in particular. The tones are not quite as seamless as Radio Silence’s Ready or Not, and occasionally too on and off. Still, sequences such as Abigail eerily skulking in a dark doorway only to twirl along a railing, chasing after Durand’s expressly animated Peter, make the movie all the more enjoyable. Not to mention, there are plenty of punchy lines of dialogue to cut through the considerable amounts of blood spilled on screen.

Abigail - Peter Being Attacked

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The effects are primarily standard horror movie fare, save for the explosive and captivating finale, but still done well, and the vampire makeup effects are particularly effective. The cinematography and editing work hand-in-hand to craft properly built suspense when needed, particularly during the film’s setup period, and the single-location setting is beautiful and haunting simultaneously. The score, headlined by the previously mentioned Swan Lake theme, varies in genre and tonality but almost always fits well.

Abigail’s most noticeable drawback is in its heavy-handed character-building moments. The criminal troupe knows nothing about one another at first and agrees not to divulge their real names or personal backgrounds. Distrustful of each other, some psychological warfare is at play, and eventually, Abigail enters the mix. The script, penned by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick, handles these character dynamics well enough to make the audience care about them. However, the periodic group sessions full of exposition and advancement sometimes feel overlong, and most of the characters still end up resembling familiar tropes, including Barrera’s uninspired final girl.

Abigail - Joey Covered in Blood

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Despite these minor nitpicks, Abigail is a highly entertaining horror film for all audiences, but vampire film fans will likely leave the experience especially satisfied. The movie features references galore, and while the vampire content does not break any new ground, that is evidently not the goal. Buckle in for a slightly spooky, somewhat neo-gothic rollercoaster ride of emotions, paired with some excellent action, performances, and a leading pair of characters you can cheer for (even for opposite reasons), and you can find much to enjoy with Abigail.

Abigail is now playing in theaters nationwide.