Abigail review | A bloody good film – if you’ve not seen the trailer

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Radio Silence follow up Ready Or Not and two Scream films with the bloody and very 18-rated Abigail. Here’s our review.

It was only after walking out of a screening of Abigail that I appreciated just how much of it had been let out of the bag via its promotion. Not the ending or anything, but more the way the film turns from being the kidnap heist thriller it starts off as into, well, something else. I mention this not by way of criticism, but more to explain why this review isn’t going anywhere near stuff even shown in the trailer. I saw this cold and had an absolute blast. I can’t give you an honest reading as to how I’d feel had I known what was around the corner.

Still. I’m hardly playing surprises to suggest that there’s a horror tinge to this, given it’s from the directorial duo of Radio Silence. Or, as per their birth certificates, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. The pair most recently have steered the last two Scream films, that I didn’t massively care for. Yet before that, they made the superb Ready Or Not, and I was hoping for something closer to that.

I got it.

The setup here is that there’s a young girl, played by Alisha Weir, who’s kidnapped by a disparate crew, and taken to a house while they wait for the ransom to be paid. The kidnapping is brutal, and as a tone-establisher, suggests early on that the film has little intention of holding back. It’s destabilising, not least because the last time I saw Alisha Weir, she was singing songs and dancing as the lead in the most recent Matilda movie. Here, she’s doing some ballet and being bundled into a vehicle.

By then shifting the film to a single house, that’s the clue that horror is incoming. It’s the standard template of a Blumhouse movie after all that you get a bunch of actors to a single location for a good hour or so of the running time. Abigail isn’t a Blumhouse film, but it not only gets everyone into a house, it also locks the doors, brings down the shutters, and primes everyone with booze. Oh, and takes their mobile phones off them. Let antics commence.

At first, I got early vibes of Bad Times At The El Royale, as Guy Busick and Stephen Shields’ script takes time to introduce us to the assorted crew that have been brought together. They don’t know each other at the start, but their respective onions are soon peeled back.

To their credit, every character gets space too. The film runs to 109 minutes, so it’s not quite on the lean side (certainly nowhere near as slimline as Ready Or Not), but the trade-off is every one of that crew of six gets a moment.

And what fun they have. I get zero impression that the key performers in Abigail weren’t looking forward to make the film from the second they signed up for it. As much as it’s Melissa Berrera and Dan Stevens who anchor the film, and they’re both in excellent form, what really lifts it is the ensemble.

The late Angus Cloud as Dean, for instance, is having a ball, whilst Kevin Durand puts on a fine smile and spits out audience-pleasing lines with happy abandon. It’s rare with a company like this to say that nobody shortchanges you, but with a production that locked a lot of people in a house in Dublin and terrorised them, absolute commitment to this is not in short supply. Heck, I could even remember all of the character names half an hour after the film finished. That rarely happens.

Then there’s Alisha Weir. Good god. For a young performer to demonstrate the range that she has across her two title roles is not to be underestimated. The film wouldn’t work if Abigail didn’t work and – this is really tricky without spoilers – Abigail works and Abigail works.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, breaking free of Scream shackles, are resolutely on top of the material too. I like how they take a leaf out of the Die Hard book and map out the geography of the environment in the first segment of the film, for instance. I also admire their patience: they let things escalate at a steady pace before unleash all manner of, er, ‘stuff’ for the final act.

Standing next to Ready Or Not, what it lacks is a little bit of that film’s economy. I thought the edit of Ready of Not felt vacuum-packed, and would have happily sat through ten minutes more as the credits rolled. In the case of Abigail, probably five minutes less, but then I’m veering towards being one of those reviewers who tells people who know how to make a film, how to make a film.

Thing is, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett very much know how to do it. A significant upgrade on their last two films, and as unshackled as they can probably get within a studio environment. I thought Abigail was tremendous, tremendous fun. I say that with the caveat I mentioned at the start: I can’t tell how I’d feel if I knew where it was going, and if I’d have sat there impatiently waiting for it to get down to business.

But I didn’t, and I didn’t. And in the end, I bloody loved it.

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