The directors of 'Ready or Not' turn their attention to monster movies in this deliciously entertaining heist-meets-vampire flick.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 18, 2024


It's true of every movie: how much you know going in can and does influence the viewing experience. Great films are still great films no matter your prior awareness of their twists, or even just the main premise, but how the audience takes that ride will morph and shift depending on what they're expecting will eventuate. Abigail is a case in point. Why that's so was revealed in its trailer, leaving almost no one sitting down to it in the dark about what's to come. But when the reveal arrives in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's fifth full-length directorial effort — and their first after bringing back Ghostface in 2022's Scream and 2023's Scream VI — it's a glorious moment. It's also treated in the flick as a big unveiling, and not just for the picture's characters, in what serves as an overt reminder of how divorced that marketing a movie is to making it. 

Abigail, aka the tween vampire ballerina film, is still an entertaining time irrespective of your starting knowledge, thankfully. It begins as a blend of a heist affair, horror mansion movie and whodunnit, with a kidnapping skilfully pulled off by a motley crew (is there any other type?), then with holing up in the mastermind's sprawling and eerie safe house with their 12-year-old captive, then with fingers being pointed and their charge toying with them. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are slick with their opening, from breaking into a well-secured estate to avoiding surveillance cameras while speeding through the streets afterwards. They're playful, too, when corralling everyone in their next location — a setup that they've turned into an ace horror watch before in 2019's Ready or Not — and letting suspicions run wild.

The six abductors here, as given nicknames Reservoir Dogs-style but with a Rat Pack spin, and told not to divulge their true identities or histories to each other: Joey (Melissa Barrera, Carmen), a recovering addict with medical skills; Frank (Dan Stevens, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire), who has a background in law enforcement; Rickles (William Catlett, Constellation), an ex-marine; Sammy (Kathryn Newton, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), the resident hacker; Peter (Kevin Durand, Pantheon), the dim-witted muscle; and Dean (Angus Cloud, Euphoria), the stoner wheelman. The middleman for their employer: the no-nonsense Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito, The Gentlemen). And the girl: Abigail (Alisha Weir, Wicked Little Letters), of course, who is the daughter of someone obscenely rich and powerful. She's just finished dance rehearsals, is still in her tutu, and proves the picture of scared and unsettled when she's snatched from her bedroom, drugged and blindfolded — until she isn't. 

Anyone that's seen Ready or Not will spot the commonalities with Abigail, even amid such hefty differences as well. Although this definitely isn't about a newlywed bride being hunted by her wealthy in-laws on her wedding night, it does trap its characters and the bulk of its action in a stately but isolated residence filled with secret hallways and rooms, and in a fight-to-the-death battle where it's evident from the outset that folks are going to get picked off one by one. There's also a strict timeline, and a red-splattered white dress. Abigail heroes a working-class female protagonist who's forced to grow into her role taking on the privileged, sports buckets full of affection for horror old and new, and winks to the past vigorously among its thoroughly modern irreverence. And, in inventive and eye-catching manners — captured this time by cinematographer Aaron Morton, who is having a great 2024 with this and The First Omen — it loves, loves, loves splashing around OTT violence.

Radio Silence, the production company that doubles as a brand for Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, clearly know this terrain. Working with a script by Stephen Shields (The Hole in the Ground) and Guy Busick (back from Ready or Not, Scream and Scream VI), Abigail's helmers also know how to make the key storytelling move in frightening flicks, and all other types of tales, of ensuring that familiar elements feel fresh when viewers can spy oh-so-much that's recognisable. That's part of the fun of Abigail, including as it becomes a gleefully gory rendering of a Home Alone-esque caper with its namesake stalking the people holding her for a $50-million ransom: seeing how its pieces, drained from elsewhere as they may be, mix and pirouette anew. It's also why the feature's chief reveal should've stayed that way going in, because there's so much else that drinks from overflowing genre cups anyway, while dropping clues from the use of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake onwards about what's in store.

A tense crime-film atmosphere to kick off, Agatha Christie nods, quite the child adversary, deranged dances, getting drenched in blood again and again, a The Cabin in the Woods vibe: they're all in a day's work for the film's well-deployed cast, even if not every character runs deep. The screenplay gives its flesh to Joey and Abigail above everyone else, and Barrera — also reuniting with Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett after their Scream flicks — and Matilda the Musical breakout Weir benefit. Stevens, Catlett, Newton, Durand, Cloud and Esposito might only be asked to hit one real note each in this predator-and-prey monster mash, but they commit to the task. It's a talent-trumps-material scenario, where this group were always going to give their figures more life on the screen than on the page — with Stevens especially having a ball, and Cloud's involvement dishing up a reminder of what the world lost when he passed away in 2023.

Abigail isn't just any addition to the vampire fold (on-screen, it also knows what else slumbers in this jam-packed coffin). In 2023, Universal Pictures was similarly behind Renfield and Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter. Before 2024 is out, The Witch, The Lighthouse and The Northman's Robert Eggers will have his own Nosferatu flickering. Finding new ways to rework its Universal Classic Monsters characters and titles — plus the pictures that inspired them, such as unauthorised adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula — is one of the studio's current niches, which also applies to The Invisible Man, the upcoming Wolf Man and this. Abigail does it with flair, enthusiasm, humour and literal guts aplenty, and while biting heartily into maximalist flourishes. It might've tasted sweeter if its promotional campaign had been slyer and shyer, but sinking your teeth in remains bloody delicious.


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