‘Abigail’ Review: A Rare Horror Comedy That’s Equally Frightening and Funny

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin’s and Tyler Gillett’s “Abigail” is another smart, gory, cleverly conceived and stylishly executed horror comedy from the team that brought you “Ready or Not” and the last two “Scream” movies. It’s about as fun as a horror movie gets these days, but it’s got a problem, and it’s not an easy problem to solve.

“Abigail” stars Melissa Barrera (“Scream VI”) as Joey, a medic who’s hired for a high stakes kidnapping. Her teammates are experts with broad personality traits. There’s Frank (Dan Stevens, “Godzilla x Kong”), a no-nonsense leader, and Dean (Angus Cloud, “Euphoria”), an all-nonsense getaway driver. Sammy (Kathryn Newton, “Lisa Frankenstein”) is the cool young hacker, Peter (Kevin Durand, “The Strain”) is the lovable muscle, and Rickles (William Catlett, “A Thousand and One”) is the quiet, professional sniper.

Together they abduct a little girl named Abigail (Alisha Weir, “Matilda: The Musical”) from her father’s palatial mansion, and bring her to another palatial mansion. Except this new palatial mansion is creepy and in the middle of nowhere. There’s a twist, of course, and what looked like the perfect crime goes horribly awry. Somebody is brutally murdering these kidnappers one by one, and for a long time the movie wants you to wonder who or what it could possibly be, even though the marketing department has already told us.

“Abigail” suffers from “Red Eye Syndrome,” in which a film — like Wes Craven’s 2005 thriller “Red Eye” — builds to a huge twist, but the twist is revealed so early in the movie that all the best stuff happens afterwards. So it’s nearly impossible to market the film without ruining the surprise. The script for “Abigail,” by Stephen Shields (“Hunted”) and Guy Busick (“Ready or Not”), wants the audience to think this is a crime thriller until the genre suddenly changes partway through. And yet there’s almost zero chance the audience doesn’t already know where it’s going, since the trailers and even the posters have all ruined the surprise. So for a long time we’re way ahead of the film and its characters, and we’re just waiting for them to catch up.

If somehow, by some miracle, you know enough about “Abigail” to want to read a review but not enough to know what happens, you can stop reading now. It’s great, there you go. We have other, wonderful articles here at TheWrap for you to enjoy. Click on them now. For the rest of us, let’s talk about the movie “Abigail” becomes, since apparently the studio doesn’t care if you know about that.

“Abigail” is a vampire movie, and it’s a very good one. It turns out the little girl they abducted is a blood-sucking monster with a penchant for ballet, so she slaughters our antiheroes with razor-sharp “London After Midnight” teeth while pirouetting just for fun. It’s the rare modern vampire movie that makes these monsters truly frightening while also working as a splatstick “And Then There Were None” riff where the characters don’t just die, they explode into gallons of blood and guts.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett know exactly how to do this kind of movie, in part because their brilliant breakout feature, “Ready or Not,” is extremely similar in many ways. They’re both comedy-horror films about a group of villains in a closed-off mansion whose victim turns the tables and kills them one-by-one. But if Alfred Hitchcock can get away with making “The 39 Steps” and “Young and Innocent” and “Saboteur” and “North By Northwest,” we’re not going to begrudge any other filmmakers just for having a schtick. Especially when they’re this good at it.

The whole ensemble cast understands the assignment, and almost everybody works wonders with their characters, even if they die early and don’t get much screen time. Melissa Barrera carries the film’s whole emotional crux like it weighs nothing, Dan Stevens is (as always) a perfect weirdo, Kathryn Newton is (as always) funny as hell, and Kevin Durant is (as always) perfectly adorable. But in the end the movie falls on the shoulders of Alisha Weir, who gives an incredibly complex and difficult performance. This young actor convincingly plays a centuries-old mass murderer who loves ballet so much she can’t help herself. There should be Oscars for this kind of thing.

There should also be awards for this kind of production design, which gives us a glorious estate that seems inspired by classic Hammer Dracula movies, Robert Wise’s “The Haunting,” the original “Puppet Master,” and more horror classics besides. Production designer Susie Cullen (“I Kill Giants”), art director Aisling O’Callaghan (“Foundation”) and their respective teams have practically turned this movie into a Halloween theme park attraction, and since it’s produced by Universal, it will probably be a real one soon.

And yet even that is fitting: “Abigail” is a frightening and fun ride. It’s a bit long, but it only feels long in the beginning, while we wait for the horror to ramp up. (And as we’ve already discussed, that’s not entirely the filmmakers’ fault.) Besides, the cast is so charismatic and the humor is so sharp that even knowing where all this is going doesn’t make it dull. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s latest film sharply combines multiple genres and tropes — a few of which are an actual surprise — and sculpts them into a bloody blast of a movie. Literally. People blast into blood. So many times.

“Abigail” opens exclusively in theaters on April 19.

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