Abigail review – Dracula’s daughter gets kidnapped in fun-sucking horror

Estimated read time 4 min read

Last year’s handsome gothic horror The Last Voyage of the Demeter and bombastic Nic Cage comedy Renfield allowed Universal the opportunity to present known IP as something fresh, at least on the surface, stories involving Dracula but told in ways we hadn’t seen before. They represented a nifty marketing strategy for a back catalogue of classic monster movies but both worked better as loglines than finished films – Dracula on a boat, Dracula as a bad boss – and audiences proved as uninterested as critics, the stench of old property distracting from the promise of something new.

As the studio preps a new take on The Wolf Man with next year’s Christopher Abbott-led Wolfman and Robert Eggers’ remake of the Dracula-inspired Nosferatu, here comes Abigail, a poppy reimagining of the little-remembered 1936 horror Dracula’s Daughter. In the contemporary take, she’s a ballerina (Matilda’s Alisha Weir) who gets kidnapped by a group of unaware criminals, hired to keep her locked in a grand old house for 24 hours while ransom money is obtained. But early on, recovering addict and single mother Joey (Melissa Barrera) figures out that something is up and starts to realise that the scared little girl in their care might not be so scared after all.

Abigail comes from Radio Silence, the team who broke out with 2019’s smug yet successful Ready or Not, a gimmicky thriller about a new bride forced to play a deadly game of hide and seek that started with real fizz before turning flat. There’s a similarly precipitous dip here, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett again crafting a fun conceit with returning writer Guy Busick (here writing alongside Stephen Shields), but without the follow-through. It has the same arch comedy-horror tone, as gory as it is goofy, but it’s missing the touch of a real comedy writer (making it the second film this year after Godzilla x Kong where Dan Stevens has to play comic support without the support of his screenwriter). Set-ups for jokes are left as just that and our wait for any form of payoff starts to mirror the plot at large, our wait for a premise to become a real movie proving similarly endless.

What’s frustrating is that, like Ready or Not, it’s directed with more flair and menace than the majority of studio horror released at this time – grand and sleek and, glory of glories, well-lit (!). It’s also set in the kind of sinister remote mansion that recalls an Agatha Christie whodunnit, something the film references with a copy of And Then There Were None, cluing us into another source of inspiration. But as a mystery, the film is a cop-out, guiding us to a big reveal that never really arrives (we’re left with a cascade of “so whats”) and instead, we’re offered the distraction of gore, as if another exploding body might help us to forget that we’re on a long road to nowhere (the runtime is a bloated 109 minutes).

Barrera, who also starred in the same team’s two recent Scream films, is an appealingly earthy heroine, even if she’s cursed with illogical decision-making and, by the end, some discordantly sappy dialogue. Kathryn Newton, who recently suffered through Lisa Frankenstein, is ever-likable (the tone of her sadly underseen 2020 comedy slasher Freaky is something the makers of Abigail should have looked toward) and as the evil child at its centre, Irish actor Weir is a total marvel, a convincingly ferocious and sour little monster even if she’s a little defanged during a messy and maudlin finale which dares to give us important parenting lessons from a vampiric demon.

As the plotting falls apart and the wheels truly come off, there’s nothing that strong direction and a work-hard cast can do to keep Abigail from sucking. There’s a lot of blood here but very little else.

  • Abigail is out in US and UK cinemas on 19 April

Source: theguardian.com

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