Abigail (2024)

Ocean's eleven-year-old

With Abigail, I face a frustrating truth: The duo of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who have in the past gone by the collective name “Radio Silence” but are credited here with just their names, have a low ceiling as filmmakers. I just don’t see the overarching storytelling instincts in any of their films to suggest they have a great movie in them. They’ve now made five feature-length films, including two Screams, and none of them are any better than run-of-the-mill “good.” That goes for Abigail, too.

The flip side of this has been a pretty high floor for entertainment value. Other than their shabby found footage debut, Devil’s Due, I have more-or-less enjoyed their movies. Smiled a bunch of times. Admired a few scenes and touches. Then moved on with my life.

What’s especially frustrating to me this time is that there’s a cool story idea in Abigail that I want to see done right. The elevator pitch hinges on a twist that comes about halfway into the film. The marketing and all press references to the film have done their damnedest to fully spoil this twist, which is a shame. I did my best to avoid any reviews, trailers, etc. devoted to the film on the mere suspicion it had a “big twist,” and still got spoiled at the last moment… by the one-line summary of the film in the damn Wikipedia search bar of all things.

Anyways, here’s the spoiler-free setup: A group of career crooks have been hired to pull a heist on a billionaire. The loot is the billionaire’s daughter, Abigail (Alisha Weir). The mysterious string-puller of the operation is demanding ransom for the return of the daughter. For whatever reason, the agreement he makes with the thieves is that all they need to do is steal Abigail and keep her safe for 24 hours and they’ll get paid their millions. So we have a one day countdown timer.

But things go south quickly. The thieves learn the girl’s father is the mob boss Kristof Lazaar. The crew all squirm at this name, because Lazaar is known for cruel revenge, and they just, you know, kidnapped and drugged his daughter. Each member of the team also has a shadowy past they only reluctantly admit might crossover with Lazaar’s wrath. Lazaar’s hit man is the cruelest executioner in the game, a mystery figure known as Valdez, spoken of in Keyser Soze-like tones. The crew starts to piece together that one of them might be a double-agent feeding info to Lazaar. In fact, one of them might even be Valdez — the latter theory supported by some brutal deaths of members of the crew early in the 24 hour window.

It’s a classic but heightened “we got a mole” heist setup. I particularly love the opening theft itself, a cross-cutting between Abigail’s ballet performance and the careful orchestration of the job scored to Swan Lake. Over-dramatic use of Tchaikovsky will always get my attention.

I like the crew themselves, too. It’s not an all-time bunch, but they’re decently well-defined and well-acted. Each is given a nickname based on a member of the Rat Pack, a reference to the original Ocean’s 11 (and the hunt for a “rat”). Our entry point to the story is Joey (Melissa Barrera), a medic and maternal presence who cares for Abigail. There’s also the corrupt ex-cop leader of the job Frank (Dan Stevens), stoic Marine sniper Rickles (Will Catlett), hacker grrl Sammy (Kathryn Newton), muscle Peter (Kevin Durand), and getaway driver Dean (Angus Cloud, RIP).

All good so far. Solid set-up, high energy, intriguing hook. And then comes the twist, which is likely to totally alienate you or otherwise be the entire reason you see film in the first place. Abandon hope all ye who avoid spoilers from here on out.

So it turns out the crew’s instincts were right. The entire operation is one big setup, and Valdez the sicko executioner is indeed in the building with them. And if you didn’t guess it right away, here it is: Valdez is Abigail, Lazaar’s twelve-year-old ballerina daughter. What’s more, Abigail is a full-on vampire. As in: a supernatural monster. And now the team is locked in a haunted house with her as she hunts them down one by one.

Parts of this admittedly work. There are some well-staged scenes of vampire attacks with gnarly gore, plus a handful of good jokes as the scenario unfolds. A fun runner is that Sammy is a Twihard and knows some vampire lore, but is too dopey to get it quite right. When she goes to hunt for garlic for protection, she grabs a big bag of onions from the kitchen. Etc.

But overall the execution is a big fat mess. Radio Silence can’t decide if it wants Abigail’s identity to be a secret. It’s largely treated as such, but also foreshadowed so heavily that I can’t imagine an unspoiled savvy viewer not guessing some version of Abigail’s treachery, even if not the vampiric specifics. The timing of events and revelations is all off: Key character details, like connections to Lazaar, only take shape too late in the film when they should have been part of the setup. The twist, on the other hand, comes way too early: at about the 50-minute mark of a bloated 110-minute runtime.

The directors can’t help but turn Abigail into a Ready or Not retread for the entire second half of the film, with Barrera’s Joey body more mutilated and blood-spattered with each passing scene as she scrambles to escape. At least this time we don’t get a subtle-as-a-crowbar “eat the rich” layer of class commentary. In fact, that’s one of my favorite parts of Abigail — other than some introspection on Joey as a mother, it’s immensely light on subtext and happy to just be a story.

Radio Silence has basically the exact opposite thoughts towards this specific story that I do. They want it to devolve into a violent horror-comedy romp ASAP, the crime story setup rushed and haphazard, there simply to get us to that “good stuff.” But it would have so much more unique and impactful if Abigail was a fully-fleshed heist story. Build out that mystery of who in the crew is a traitor, and gut punch us with a brief orgy of vampire violence in the finale. The proxy parent relationship set up between Abigail and Joey could have had much more heft; the sense of suspense and fear of betrayal between the crew could be much thicker; and the personalities of each character could be better explored and fleshed out. Instead, it’s all about the gory set pieces.

The “what if the mole is actually a 12-year-old vampire girl” hook is strong enough that I really want to like Abigail, and it truthfully never loses its sense of fun, but it’s yet another nail in the coffin of my hope for Radio Silence greatness. They can craft some strong scenes and churn through some interesting ideas, even apply some clever misdirection, but they never pull it all the way together.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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