Abigail (2024)

APRIL 19, 2024



I've often wondered if anyone ever got the opportunity to watch From Dusk Til Dawn without knowing it was a vampire movie. For the first 45 minutes or whatever it was, there's nothing in the film to indicate anything supernatural would be happening; it's just a straight ahead hostage thriller with some humor, with the vampire stuff being sprung as a total surprise. But naturally, the marketing focused on that, so there was no way for us 90s kids to go in blind. But perhaps there's a better chance for it happening with Radio Silence's Abigail, which similarly doesn't tell you you're watching a vampire movie until about the halfway point and may frustrate some viewers who were sold on that very premise.

Luckily for me, I enjoyed my pre-vampire time quite a bit, as the film was loaded with actors I enjoy watching (Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Giancarlo Esposito, and - my man! - Kevin Durand) and their Reservoir Dogs-esque dynamic, where they've been assembled for a job under strict rule not to reveal anything personal about themselves and have been given code names (Joey, Dean, Frank, Sammy... either you'll get the theme or you'll need further explanation than I have space for here if I were to spell it out) to address one another. Joey is Melissa Barrera from the last two Scream movies, continuing her partnership with the Radio Silence team, and she's never been better, I must say. She's the requisite "criminal with a heart," as she has a young son that is currently with his father after she lost him due to a drug addiction she picked up during her time as a combat medic, using the money from their job to hopefully start a new life with him. Hard not to root for that!

Of course, if you're watching unaware then you can't root for her either, as the job is "kidnapping a little girl and holding her for ransom in a scary house." It's an odd disconnect; I never once really felt bad for the girl even when they have to knock her out to finish the kidnapping process, because I knew she was a little demon that could have killed them all right then and there if she wanted, but again, if some hypothetical person goes into this movie completely unaware, they'll probably have a tough time feeling for Joey even with her sob story. And the rest don't even have anything noble to even it out; an ex-cop, a mafia enforcer, a rich girl hacker... get em, Abby!

Even beyond that, the marketing and casting also kind of tips us off that despite the RD-esque setup that this won't be a movie about the team's paranoia turning them against each other. We know from the trailer that this house they all go to is actually HER house, and that their boss (Esposito) picked it specifically. And since Esposito exits after his first scene, we know they didn't cast him for that one rather thankless part, so basically while you're waiting for Abigail to show her true nature, you're also kind of waiting for the "reveal" that they were all set up by Esposito from the beginning. Amusingly, when Abigail explains why they were chosen, it comes off as a giant homage to another '90s crime classic - which Esposito was also in! So I can't help but wonder if Radio Silence intentionally cast him as tribute, only for the marketing to kind of gum up what also plays as a surprise reveal.

But like I said, it's fun to watch the group hang out, take shots at each other, attempt to bond (the late Angus Cloud, as the wheelman, gets plenty of laughs from his very terrible attempts to woo Newton's character), etc. And even though there are no specific "she's a vampire!" kind of things until she bares her fangs, there are some in-jokes that tell us what we're watching: she's introduced during her ballet routine set to "Swan Lake", and when Dan Stevens forgets to put on his mask when entering her room, he quickly tries to hide it by pulling his jacket over it, in a manner exactly like the not-Bela Lugosi guy in Plan 9. So there's plenty of amusement to be had, and while there might be a genre switcheroo (from thriller to vampire), it's *fun* from start to finish, which keeps it from a tonal inbalance. I feel an audience can go with anything a lot easier as long as the tone remains consistent, so it's only the severely impatient that should really have an issue.

Plus, it's not like they don't make it worth the wait. While the Screams made a lot more money we shouldn't forget that this is also the team that gave us Ready or Not, and whether they wanted to pay tribute to their first big success or just absolutely love doing it, there are once again very bloody body explosions in this movie, allowing nearly character to be drenched in blood at some point before they either die later or walk off into the sunrise. The compact cast (the six kidnappers, Esposito, and Abigail herself are the only people on-screen for 95% of the runtime) means the body count is obviously not going to be very high, but Abigail's pint-sized attacks means she doesn't always land a kill shot as quickly, so, yeah. Blood. Lots of it.

I also liked their take on vampires, where rather than just get the standard fangs she gets a row of sharp teeth over her normal ones, giving it a more monstrous flair than the typical bloodsucker. Her skills also involve flying, contortion, and (I think?) shape-shifting (there's a scene with a rat that suggests she turned into a cat? Unless I was just processing it wrong), but they never forget the fact that she's a ballerina either. So instead of just running she often twirls and Grand Jetes* her way towards her victims, a sight that never stopped being funny to me. And (spoiler that the trailer only offers a quick glimpse of) she does turn someone at some point, giving that actor even more fun stuff to do while also showing off a "puppet" skill where dance comes into play again, and the whole thing is set to Danzig's "Blood and Tears" for good measure. It's a truly awesome sequence.

It's also consistently funny, with very few duds in the attempts. Stevens' delivery of "F***in onions" (another character thinks they're a protective garlic) had me laughing for quite a while, and the reveal of his character's actual name is a funny little easter egg that pays homage to another filmmaking team he's worked with. And Kevin Durand is an absolute scene-stealer as a big lug who is a little slow to understand things but seems like perhaps the only genuinely decent person in the group except for Joey (his size and slow intellect kind of led him down the "bruiser" path more than any inherent malice), making him even more endearing than she is at times. His very late understanding of why they got the code names they got had me reeling. He's the main villain in the new Planet of the Apes movie too, so despite the mocap stuff obscuring his face I hope it catapults his star power a little; dude's been killing it for like 20 years now and deserves his due. If you can manage to entertain an audience during the insufferable Wolverine Origins, you deserve the world, far as I'm concerned.

OK ONE LAST SPOILER, I promise. Skip this next paragraph and the little one after it if you've been successfully hidden from some dumb social media bickering about the film's former connection to a certain vampire film of yore.

This movie was announced as a reimagining of Dracula's Daughter, and that information remains as current on the film's Wiki page, leading some lazy critics to accept it as fact. But she most certainly is NOT Dracula's daughter in the movie, because her dad shows up and I'm pretty sure they'd say his name if that's who he was (it's Grazer or something like that). However, those who have followed this movie from the time it was announced know that it only got its name very recently, and for a while was just referred to as "Untitled Radio Silence Universal Monster Movie." The fact that it took so long to say what it was actually called suggests to me that maybe the Dracula element was removed fairly late in the process, and that until then it was going to go out with that title OR they would call it whatever (including Abigail) and reveal her dad was Dracula when he showed up. Further, one could assume that since this is another comedic vampire movie from Universal, that said Drac would be played by Nic Cage, reprising his role from Renfield. But that film's total (undeserved!) failure probably would have put a stake into those plans even if that was indeed the case. Still, when her dad appears, it's an actor you might recognize, but he's hardly a big name worthy of a surprise appearance (though if you want to maybe grasp at straws, it IS kind of a funny bit of casting if you think about the title of this film that he starred in, but that's all I got). Nothing against him, he's not someone that the audience is going to be blown away by their sudden appearance, like Statham showing up at the end of Fast and Furious 6, or Sam Jackson in Iron Man, though the reveal plays like such moments.

(Ironically I had my money on someone even less exciting to a general audience: Henry Czerny, who appeared in Scream 6 and Ready or Not and even makes a random appearance in the film with his photo on one of the walls the characters slowly walk past. I would have cheered, anyway. Love that dude. But they shot the movie in Ireland, so maybe he was still in Prague.)

Besides that, my only issue is that the climax dragged, though that's been an issue with their other movies too so I can't say I was surprised. It's one of those things where things could have been wrapped up in the next five minutes, but instead they introduce another element that keeps it going. And then another element on top of that, so that what looked like the climactic scene ends up being almost an act onto itself. It also meant making one character I kind of liked as an anti-hero into a full on villain, so that was a bummer. It's mostly made up for by the final line from _______ to ______ before they explode (if you've seen it, the one involving "the cool s**t"), but it still could have been tightened. I know most people will complain it takes too long to get to the vampire stuff; I was mostly fine with that (if somewhat surprised at the delay) but weird ol' me started checking their watch during a bloody, stunt-filled battle. Just one turn too many for me.

Otherwise: total winner. I was sad but not particularly stunned to see that the box office wasn't all that great (better than Renfield at least), though I took solace with the decent Cinemascore (B, above average for horror) so maybe word of mouth will help out and it'll be a minor hit. But audiences just never tend to flock to see these kind of movies even in better theatrical times (even From Dusk Till Dawn, with a red-hot Clooney from ER and Tarantino's first script since Pulp Fiction, didn't perform all that well), and like Disney+, Universal has done itself no favors for its theatrical output (outside of major blockbusters) by training audiences to expect that they'll be on Peacock in a few weeks. You'll enjoy it just as much at home, I'm sure, but man. It'd be nice to see something like this get the "surprise smash" label, if only to ensure we get a few more before every decently budgeted (so, not Blumhouse, which keeps spending to a minimum) original horror goes extinct or streaming only. A friend of mine, who has been involved in some very gigantic movies (meaning: his stuff doesn't go streaming), believes that in 20-30 years, theatrical releases won't exist at all. *Theaters* will, but purely as a repertory or specialty thing, while the studios gradually lose interest just as audiences seemingly do, and put their slates on streaming (or whatever the next thing is) for mass audiences. People kept saying "superhero fatigue" led to the failure of the last couple Marvel movies, but if audiences want new things, they're not showing up for those either. I've stopped doing the bullying "YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!" kind of thing that I used to, so see it or not, your call. But just know, the writing on the wall is getting easier to read by the day, and expecting to be able to go to the multiplex and seeing films like this alongside the "IP" stuff forever is perhaps misguided optimism.

What say you?

*I had to look it up, I assure you.


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget