Abigail (Universal, R)

Abigail may include a few too many predictable elements for its own good, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a blast watching it. From start to finish, this movie is hilarious and twisty enough to outweigh the slight lack of polish in some of the nooks and crannies of its story. But do we horror fans really flock to a movie like Abigail for a killer story, or do we go for killer kills? That’s really a rhetorical question, and the answer is subjective, of course. Luckily, Abigail has enough of both elements to warrant a strong recommendation from me.

We start with a simple yet interesting premise: a gang of kidnappers kidnap a 12-year-old ballerina with a powerful father. Unbeknownst to them, they have kidnapped a vampire. They are soon trapped in the mansion they thought was their safe house. We expect some of the typical trappings of a survival horror story, and while the film certainly has some of those, around its middle it becomes something more than merely funny and well-acted. It brings us along for its wild ride in such agreeable, non-aggressive fashion that its monster mayhem becomes reassuring in a certain sense. The direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (directors of the past two Scream movies) is assured throughout, even during moments of relative predictability. We know we’re never going to see things get so goofy as to land anywhere close to the realm of self-parody, but we’re also indulging enough in the fun of this premise for the film to be enjoyable on both regular and slightly campy levels.

The cast deserves major kudos for capturing this perfect tone as well. In the title role, young Alisha Weir remarkably balances fear (in the early goings) and ferocity. When she has to deliver a major chunk of backstory, she does so confidently without coming off as precocious. Her work here is truly one of the best performances I’ve ever seen by a child actor. Melissa Barrera lends an authenticity to Joey’s (her alias; all of the criminals go by humorous aliases chosen early on) uncanny leadership abilities and clear-headedness amidst the chaos. Dan Stevens gives yet another iconic gonzo horror performance as Frank (also an alias). I won’t spoil how he gets gonzo, but it is perhaps the best part of the whole movie. It’s a treat to see Stevens having such artistic success in this strange niche he’s carved out for himself.

Yet another set of elements which balance fun and authenticity are the film’s set design and its shot composition. Not since Thoroughbreds have I seen a movie which so smartly establishes the geography of one house and uses it to such great effect. We may not know the floor plan of this mansion by heart, but because it’s photographed so well by Aaron Morton, and both he and editor Michael P. Shawver seem to have placed emphasis on varied use of closeup, medium, and wide shots, we clearly understand where the story’s important rooms are in relation to other important rooms. The timing of the use of said individual rooms is also chosen wisely insofar as what takes place in each room makes sense to take place there. They weren’t all simply chosen for their aesthetics, although a few are. It’s another way in which the film is structured to be super fun and engaging, but wisely not overbearingly flashy.

Again, is Abigail a perfect movie? No, but I suppose that’s another rhetorical question. Are you looking for a great time with a horror comedy that blends a bit of dumb fun with a lot of smart filmmaking? If your answer is “yes,” then it’s the perfect movie for you. | George Napper

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