Horror Movies

ABIGAIL. A monster in ballet shoes, or a new horror heroine enters theaters

The vampire ballerina shows off sharp teeth, bites deep into skin and dances around genre clichés.

Mariusz Czernic

22 April 2024

Alisha Weir in "Abigail" (2024)

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella, founders of the production company Radio Silence, after making Ready or Not (2019) and the fifth and sixth installments of Scream (2022-23) reached for vampiric themes this time, combining them with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Frank Sinatra’s The Rat Pack. The trailers already gave away the film’s biggest surprise, but it couldn’t have been different, as the vampire ballerina motif is a marketing hit and not using it in a promotional campaign would have been a wasted potential. The most important question is: did the filmmakers do something more with this motif, or did they play with it in an interesting way to satisfy the audience?

As the main turning point of the plot – the transformation of a teenage dancer into a blood-thirsty monster – is known, the least interesting part of the film is the first act leading up to that moment. A group of “professionals” carry out a mysterious assignment – they are to abduct a 12-year-old ballerina named Abigail (Alisha Weir), for which they will get seven million dollars each. The kidnapping itself goes rather easily, and this was supposedly going to be the most difficult part of the plan. Before the ransom is handed over, the kidnappers have to watch the girl for 24 hours. The criminals do not know each other, and at the suggestion of the principal, the mysterious Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), they use names from the famous Rat Pack collective. So there’s Frank Sinatra (Dan Stevens), Dean Martin (Angus Cloud), Sammy Davis Jr. (Kathryn Newton), Peter Lawford (Kevin Durand) and Joey Bishop (Melissa Barrera), as well as Don Rickles (William Catlett), perhaps best known in America for his entertainment program The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.

The Rat Pack versus Dracula's daughter

Screenwriters Stephen Shields and Guy Busick have done very well with exposition to introduce the characters. This is done through Joey, who quite aptly characterizes her accomplices. Not only does this give us the crucial information we need to understand their motivations, but Joey thus reveals herself as the most perceptive person in the group. And her shared scenes with Abigail also reveal her as the most empathetic. As with the Rat Pack and their exploits in Ocean’s Eleven (1960), the characters are able to elicit sympathy despite being involved in an action that would be condemned in real life.

The film was originally planned as part of the Dark Universe, a project that fell through after the disastrous failure of The Mummy (2017, dir. Alex Kurtzman). As part of the series, Abigail was to draw inspiration from Dracula’s Daughter (1936, dir. Lambert Hillyer). The film begins with Tchaikovsky’s famous theme from Swan Lake, which has a dual meaning in this case. Not only is there a plot justification in it because of the title character wearing ballet shoes and a tutu skirt. Perhaps few remember that the most famous adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), also began with a Tchaikovsky piece. This flavor makes it so that even if someone hasn’t seen the trailer or read the information about the film, he or she can associate Abigail with the most famous vampire in history after the first notes.

Melissa Barrera & Alisha Weir in

Massacre in an Irish mansion

The main advantage, especially important for horror fans, is that the age category R has been well used here. There is a lot of blood, heads are separated from the torso, bodies are pierced through and through, there is even a pool filled to the brim with corpses. The 19th-century estate – Glenmaroon House, a Victorian house on the outskirts of Dublin – is great for the story. Perhaps it is an homage to Bram Stoker, who was born in Dublin. It is also the hometown of Alisha Weir, who played the title role in the film and performed sensationally. She could be called the acting discovery of the year, if it weren’t for the fact that she had already shown great talent in Matilda: The Musical (2022), which can be watched on Netflix. But Matilda and Abigail are films for two opposite audiences, posing very different challenges for the actress. Abigail Lazar is a physically and emotionally exhausting role, and the final result was influenced primarily by her collaboration with choreographer Belinda Murphy and stunt woman Rachelle Beinart. This made the horror film achieve a remarkable balletic grace, which make it stand out from contemporary representatives of the genre.

Does it stand out by anything else? Here I have some doubts. It does not bring anything fresh to the history of vampire horror. It makes fun of the attributes of vampirism, such as the crucifix, garlic or a stake driven through the heart, but I think it could have had more fun with genre clichés. Or introduce new elements that would have offered a refreshing look at the dark world of bloodsuckers. There’s no shortage of clichéd jump scares, ill-conceived dialogues and annoying characters who are only there to effectively die in the first place (not easy to write, since this is mostly about the late Angus Cloud – the 25-year-old actor died of a drug overdose last July).

Melissa Barrera & Dan Stevens in

A swan song or the birth of a new Dark Universe?

Nonetheless, the viewer gets a pretty efficiently shot bloody spectacle, which will be nice to revisit when it hits streaming platforms. Because once it gets going it surprises, or at least tries to surprise at every turn until the twisted finale. There’s just the right energy here to keep you from getting bored (I know what I’m saying, because I watched the film after 9 hours of work, when I was tired and sleepy). The acting, headed by Melissa Barrera, who proves that she is one of the most charismatic actresses of the younger generation, does not disappoint. At this point it is worth noting that the most memorable is 14-year-old Alisha Weir in the role of the “white swan” revealing her dark side.

The production in question is an impressive, but not overloaded beyond measure “ballet of violence” with elements of classical dance. Bathed in a river of blood, dinner with a vampire, from which one could expect more creative fun in the style of the Scream series. Yet Abigail has pretty strong fangs and can bite deep into the mind and heart. A tragicomic tone and situational absurdity hover over the whole thing, but they don’t overshadow the serious horror. However, this isn’t the type of realistic scary movie that genuinely frightens and disturbs. This is, as with the previous works of the Bettinelli / Gillett duo, an entertaining horror film, based on an imaginative concept, designed to provide a thrilling feast in pleasant company. Ingredients from completely different sources were mixed here, but this did not introduce unnecessary chaos – the intrigue is coherent, quite sensibly guided and contains interesting references to literature, theater, cinema and pop culture. I’m not a fan of ballet, but in this edition I buy it and enjoy myself.

Mariusz Czernic

Mariusz Czernic

Tries to popularize old, forgotten cinema. A lover of black crime stories, westerns, historical and samurai dramas, gothic horror movies as well as Italian and French genre cinema.

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