Review: Vampire Thriller Abigail Offers More Blood and Gore than Story or Character Development

I’ll certainly give credit where credit is due. Abigail, the latest horror film from the directing collective known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett, makers of the last two Scream movies, as well as the far better Ready or Not), delivers fully on its promise of being a blood-and-guts extravaganza. The film, about a group of morally compromised individuals kidnapping the ballerina daughter of a powerful criminal and holding her in an isolated mansion until a ransom is paid, turns into a tale in which the captors become the victims of young Abigail (Alisha Weir, recently seen in Wicked Little Letters and as the title character in Mathilda: The Musical), who turns out to be a centuries old pint-sized vampire.

Depending on her whim, she either just drains her victims for food or turns them into vampires who are susceptible to certain things, especially daylight. When the light hits, the vamps explode like a balloon filled with red shaving cream, and it’s spectacular. Sadly, the movie isn’t two hours of just that, and it’s the portions of the film in which story is involved that things become less interesting.

But it's not all bad. Recruited by a mastermind named Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), the criminals who don’t know each other—not even their real names—gather to carry out the kidnapping. Once they get to the mansion, they start to talk. The smartest of the bunch, Joey (Melissa Barrera), has everyone else figured out pretty quickly just based on context clues. Frank (Dan Stevens) is a disgraced cop; hacker Sammy (Kathryn Newton) grew up with money and commits crime for the thrill; Peter (Kevin Durand) is the muscle and he’s an idiot; Dean (the late Angus Cloud) is a street thug; and Rickles (William Catlett) is former military and knows how to follow orders. But Frank the cop has Joey pegged too, as a one-time junkie who abandoned her son so that she wouldn’t taint him with her lifestyle. The one thing all of these people have in common is that they need/want money in a hurry, and they’ve been promised $7 million a piece to carry out this job.

But it’s all a ruse, and they have all been carefully selected to be put to death by Abigail for reasons I won't reveal and would probably seem slightly ridiculous if I did. Weir is fantastic as the vampire, who is bouncing off the walls, floating around rooms, and displaying extraordinary strength as she plays with her food before chowing down. The movie uses her dancing as a means of making her kills graceful and elegant, and that at least feels new. Sometimes she chases her prey throughout the house, but other times, she toys with them by tempting them, promising to set them free or turn them into a vampire if they don’t kill her. It becomes clear that Abigail has been doing this for a long time, mostly for the approval of her father (Matthew Goode), who makes a brief appearance near the film’s climax, and she’s grown tired of her enforcer role within his organization. It doesn’t quite lead to the confrontation between daughter and father we are hoping for, but there’s a certain dramatic exchange between them that serves its purpose.

Abigail’s concept is solid; it’s the execution that lets us down, with some characters getting developed far more than others. A couple of the performances are either forgettable or downright obnoxious, with only Weir, Barrera, and Stevens adding any life to this story about mass death. It’s a mostly good-looking film, and the cast is certainly energetic and clearly having a blast being a part of this eclectic ensemble. But the movie just doesn’t pull it off (unless you’re talking about heads, some of which do get pulled off).

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.