“ABIGAIL”
Starting Alisha Weir, Melissa Berrara, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton
Written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillette

By Matt Neufeld
April 18, 2024

One of the continually mystifying, irritating and disappointing aspects of modern-day filmmaking is the nearly total collapse of the horror and supernatural film (and television) genre in terms of overall quality, ingenuity, originality and basic intelligence, and the concurrent general horrific inability of modern-day filmmakers to simply make a good, smart, inventive–and intelligent–horror or supernatural-based film.

In general, and to be blunt: Most horror and supernatural films released during the last twenty-five years are flat-out awful. Many, to be honest, are just incredibly stupid. That’s right–stupid. And that’s being kind.

Alas, the sorry, sad and stupid parade of tears and fears continues this spring with the unfortunate arrival of the wholly, completely awful, disappointing, overly-violent, morose, dumb, unoriginal, bland, mind-numbing and bizarrely annoying and irritating “Abigail,” a movie so trite, cliched, stomach-churningly violent and uninspired, it’s a wonder, once again in this corner of the film world, how this mess was green-lit in the first place.

And that’s being kind.

“Abigail,” just like most of its contemporary horror and supernatural films these days, completely fails in all major filmic quarters: writing, acting, direction and production.

There’s zero clever, insightful, meaningful or intellectual dialogue; lines; plot; subplot; characters; characterizations; story, plot, character or story development; or messages, morals, meaning or lessons. The story is so yawningly unpredictable and cliched, even the most casual horror film fan will see what’s coming, what’s going to happen, what people are going to say, and even how it’s all going to end, about ten minutes into the movie.

The script, and the film, lack any grace, style, suspense, scares, frights, chills or thrills. The dark, endless anvil attack of graphic violence is so unrelenting, so gross, so blood-soaked, so, well, graphic, the movie ceases being a movie in the normal sense and just becomes some long-winded amateurish excuse to show off the ample, over-budgeted special effects, prosthetic, computer effects and make-up budgets. The movie so quickly devolves and dissolves into a series of gross-out gore and violence attack and fight scenes, there’s just not much substance left to focus on.

The acting by literally every actor in the film lacks any finesse, grace, subtlety, depth, chemistry or likeability. As it too often happens in many moronic modern-day films in general but particularly in modern-day horror and supernatural movies, literally every character in “Abigail” is cringily and thoroughly so unlikeable, annoying, irritating, emotionally stunted, stupid, mentally unstable, attention-deficit-challenged, immature, communication-challenged and horrifyingly uneducated in basic intelligence, the audience has no clear, obvious reason to care about any of them. And if you can’t care about any of your lead characters, you can’t be expected to subsequently care much about the movie itself.

This, by the way, includes the two main characters who were somewhat intended–intended being the key word here–to be somewhat sympathetic. But that fragile sympathetic intention is misguided, warped, confused and consistently contradictory in the wayward script and story in regards to these characters, thus ultimately muting the characters’ overall likeability and rendering their sympathetic aspects, well, generally unsympathetic. These two characters, Abigail, a 12-year-old girl who’s really a demonic, evil, horrible, horrifying, psychopathic vampire murder machine, and Joey, a confused, bitter and acidic drug addict who’s estranged from her young son, form some type of flimsy, somewhat nonsensical bond, and they try their best to overcome their respective sad situations in life, but the overall shortcomings, holes and general storytelling problems with the script and story constantly block the frequent efforts to elicit that elusive sympathy. Thus, in the end, sadly, you just don’t care much about these people and hybrid-vampire-people. And, as noted, you end up not caring too much about the movie itself.

As for the other actors, they’re given the unfortunate thespian duties to portray unfortunate, unlikeable, uneducated morons, but they don’t quite break through or overcome the myriad script, dialogue and characterization difficulties inherent in the writing. Good actors can overtake these obstacles and bravely rise above faulty writing, but that doesn’t generally happen here. Some fault could lie with the two directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who appear to have blatantly directed their cast members to act and interact amongst and with each other in the most oddly obnoxious and toxic manners possible. The result is a movie full of characters who clearly appear to be grown adult human beings but instead communicate, talk and react to each other in a limited array of childish, immature communication skills that consist primarily of arguing, shouting, cursing, yelling, and then arguing, shouting, yelling and cursing some more. And then, for bad measure, yelling and cursing some more. And…arguing and shouting some more.

The juvenile script for “Abigail” appears to have been written in an angst-filled, coffee-fueled session of a late-night Hollywood anger management group session.

The scriptwriters, Stephen Shields and Guy Busick, also seemingly attempted to install some lame comedy into the proceedings, but that doesn’t work on any level at any time. In no way is “Abigail” ever funny, comedic or humorous. Shields, Busick and every other writer should know by now that the melding of comedy and horror very rarely works well, because most often, the comedy tends to dilute the horror and the horror tends to dilute the comedy. And writing a script that successfully melds comedy and horror needs to be truly undertaken by scriptwriters who truly, actually understand, know and respect the history, background and theories of real comedy that is actually funny and real horror that’s actually scary.

There are a few exceptions in regards to films that have succeeded in the rare art of smoothly melding comedy and horror–“Zombieland,” “Sean of the Dead” and “Bubba Ho-Tep” reign at the top of this exclusive club–but most efforts fail horrifically. If you’re not funny, and you don’t really understand humor, then don’t write comedy, and if you don’t know or understand horror and the supernatural, then don’t write horror and the supernatural. That’s pretty simple, really.

Yet, strangely, we continue to see people who don’t understand humor attempt to write comedy and people who don’t understand horror and the supernatural attempt to write horror and the supernatural. Naturally, most of these misguided efforts fail.

By the way, if you haven’t seen “Zombieland,” “Sean of the Dead” or “Bubba Ho-Tep,” please watch these movies. Thank you.

The beleaguered “Abigail” tries to tell the story about a group of unlikeable–did we mention that all of the main characters in “Abigail”are unlikeable?–rag-tag, criminal, ruthless and somewhat all-get-out dumb drifters and grifters who are hired by a shifty, shady criminal henchman to kidnap the 12-year-old daughter of a ultra-wealthy man and then collect a $50 million ransom. Why anyone thinks this would work in today’s world—-even in a willing-suspension-of-disbelief horror film context–either doesn’t understand today’s world regarding such schemes or hasn’t watched the previous five-thousand criminals-kidnap-child-of-wealthy-person movies. In real life, and in the movies, this never works, this never ends well, and barely anyone ever makes it out of this alive.

Do you really think, watching the first ten minutes of “Abigail,” that this group of arguing, yelling, shouting and cursing dumb–and, by the way, unlikeable–criminals will safely collect the random and escape into the sunset, free and clear, unharmed, with no dire consequences? Hah! What fools these mortals be!

The criminals abduct the girl, take her to one of the most elaborate, beautiful, expensive and sprawling getaway kidnapping houses in all of kidnapping movies’ hilarious history of overly garish safehouse locations, and then proceed to, well, argue, shout, yell and curse at each other. And wait for word from the girl’s father about that ransom.

With literally zero suspense, surprise or shock value, it’s very soon clumsily and bluntly revealed–just revealed, not mysteriously uncovered or deducted–that the kidnapped girl, Abigail, is–no surprise, no spoiler, no suspense, no shock–a blood-drinking, crazily-strong, game-playing, devious and relentlessly and joyful murderous vampire.

What do you think happens next?

It’s no spoiler at all to unfortunately tell you that Abigail calmly and violently proceeds to kill, bite, dismember, stab, gouge and torture the drifters and grifters. None of this is enjoyable. None of this is suspenseful. None of this is scary. None of this is original. None of this funny. None of this is ever pleasant or enjoyable to watch. The directors choose to film most of the movie and all of the attack and fight scenes in extreme, over-done close-ups; deafening over-done sound and sound effects; unneeded and gross-out over-done graphic violence; too-rushed and too-frenetic over-done editing and pacing; and in an odd, disturbingly unsettling atmosphere that often involves Abigail violently killing and maiming people. Why, exactly, did anyone think this is worthy, healthy or entertaining? If anything, it’s all just disturbing, unsettling and gratuitous in a somewhat unhealthy, psychopathic manner.

There’s no suspense in the reveal that Abigail is a vampire–none. A better, smarter and more inventive–and scarier–movie would have had the systematic murders of the kidnappers appear more mysteriously, more slowly, more in the shadows, at a slower, more patient pace and mood—-with absolutely no one–characters and viewers–ever suspecting that the 12-year-old girl kept in a locked room upstairs in that crazy getaway mansion is actually a vampire. The movie should have slowly built to that reveal via an overall creepy, scary, suspenseful tone, pace and atmosphere that led to a whopper of a surprise reveal in a climatic third act. The characters should have been likeable. Abigail should have been mysteriously likeable, even as a killer vampire. There should have been no attempts at comedy. There should have been no graphic violence—-none. That’s right–none. And the film should not have shown Abigail committing the murders. And the script and dialogue should have been intelligent, probing, insightful and deep, with the kidnappers reflecting on their lives and what led them to desperately kidnap a wealthy 12-year-old girl and with Abigail sadly reflecting on what led her to living life as a vampire. But, again, the movie generally lacks the style, class, grace and finesse to achieve any of these lofty filmic goals.

All we get is a psychopathic, violent bloodbath that seems to dangerously and disturbingly wallow in its violence. That’s the last thing anyone needs at the movies these days.

Universal keeps sadly, desperately and unsuccessfully trying to revive its dusty catacombs of classic horror movies, tropes, traditions, characters and creatures. And it literally hasn’t worked yet in any of its 2000s-era embarrassing misfires. “Abigail” was somehow intended to evoke memories of 1936’s “Dracula’s Daughter,” but there’s really zero connection on any level. And Universal previously failed horribly with “The Mummy” (2017); “The Invisible Man” (2020); and “Renfield” (2023). All of these movies have been awful misfires. They’re also all entirely unneeded.

Note to Universal executives: For the love of all that is sacred in horror and supernatural film history—-stop it. Just stop this filmic madness. Let Dr. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, other reanimated creatures, invisible people, wolfmen and wolfwomen, creatures from black lagoons, vampires, mummies, ghosts, goblins, poltergeists, demons, zombies and all other creatures of the night rest in their eternal slumbers. Just let them rest in peace.

The only hint of a bright spot amid the unholy mess that is “Abigail” is actress Melissa Barrera. Barrera has an electric, dynamic and energetic stage/screen presence, and not just because she’s beautiful, which she is. She also has that extra, special presence factor, and you can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on screen. That’s good, and great even. But there’s a problem–she’s wasting her talent with horror B-movies. She’s 33 years old, doing well –but, right now, she needs to leave the horror and supernatural genres behind. She needs to do dramas, period stories, romances, Westerns, and character- and smart-dialogue-driven films. Anything but horror and supernatural films.

Note to Melissa Barrera: You have beauty, sexiness, presence, energy and talent, but you need to utilize these skills wisely. No one wants to be a scream queen forever. No one should be a scream queen forever. After a while, when the screaming stops, there’s the danger of no one being there to hear you. But if you branch out and diversify and showcase your talent in a variety of dramas, audiences will be there to support you for decades to come.

As for the scores of young filmmakers desperately and sadly trying to make horror and supernatural films and as for the film studio suits who wholly lack any original instincts or ideas, they, too, need to leave the horror and supernatural genres. Just simply move on to other areas and genres of filmmaking. It’s pretty simple, really.

Otherwise, this evil, unholy, continuing curse of awful terrible horrible horror movies will continue to curse the land, spreading its dark voodoo spells that threaten to turn us all into creeping, crawling undead zombie moviegoers lingering in darkened movie theaters that are as dark, dreary and depressing as the fiery depths of hell itself.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.