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film review
  • Abigail
  • Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
  • Written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick
  • Starring Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Alisha Weir, Kathryn Newton, William Catlett, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud and Giancarlo Esposito
  • Classification 14A; 109 minutes
  • Opens in theatres April 19

Vampire ballerina are two words that when paired together give so much joy the idea becomes critic proof. Similar previous pairings include snakes and plane; shark and tornado; cocaine and bear.

Abigail is better than those. The movie – made for anyone who wished Black Swan would ditch the tortured psychological pretensions and just give us a mass murderer in a tutu – could have gotten away with a lot less. It works as well as it does because its young mousy pirouetting star, Alisha Weir, a fantastic Irish actress and singer, is so game for it all.

Weir was the lead in Netflix’s Matilda The Musical, playing the magical child terrorizing bad adults. She’s more or less up to the same here, but this time bathing in curdled blood to the sounds of Tchaikovsky. Her presumed to be 12-year-old Abigail is a manipulator, shifting sneakily between pouty child who can make your heart ache to screeching banshee who might rip your heart right out. And then she’ll grand jeté her way over to the next victim.

How the various attractive meat sacks got in their unlucky position – trapped inside a heavily fortified Victorian mansion – takes some laboured exposition, which the writing and directing team (who dub themselves Radio Silence) don’t handle quite as elegantly.

The housebound include Dan Stevens as a former detective, Kevin Durand as the oafish muscle from Quebec, Kathryn Newton as a very Gen Z hacker and Melissa Barrera as a medic. Their mission is to kidnap Abigail, who we meet performing Swan Lake in an opera house all to herself before she’s chauffeured home in a two-toned Rolls-Royce. In their minds, she good for a $50-million ransom.

None of the kidnappers actually know who their target is from the outset. They just took the job blindly from a fixer played by Giancarlo Esposito and generally reveal themselves to be slow on the take. Their hostage-keeping venue is outfitted with a dungeon in the basement, some creepy centuries-old statues in the foyer and a library that’s giving Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, which for them raises few red flags. These are not the people to question why someone would recruit them as highly capable operatives for a high-stakes job when their actual ability and behaviour seems to scream otherwise.

Not that we need any of this to make sense. The plot, which is not as good as Abigail when it comes to contorting itself, tries too hard to explain things when, once again, vampire ballerina needs no such exposition dumps. It should just be. Giving Barrera’s moral centre Joey emotional baggage, and throwing in wild double crosses – because somewhere it is writ that these are the expectations in the genre – just drags down the whole vampire ballerina of it all. But whenever things get too bogged down, a body explodes, spraying brain bits and flesh chunks everywhere and jolting things back to life.

The Radio Silence team, who made similarly raucous fare Ready or Not and the last two Scream installments before this, lay everything out with a consistently flippant sense of humour that the whole cast makes a meal of. Stevens, playing a menacingly out of control goon, is ever the spark plug (did you catch him as millennial Jeff Goldbloom in Godzilla x Kong?). He’s outfitted with the simplest and most cutting responses to being ravaged by the vampire ballerina. Durand, looking like Elon Musk on steroids, is hilariously endearing as the blunt tool in the shed. Newton’s comic performance here is yet another reminder that she’s due for recognition as this generation’s Winona Ryder.

And then there’s Angus Cloud, bringing his whole authentic vibe from Euphoria – where he plays the sleepy-eyed, observant and explosive dealer Fezco – to an outrageous set where he could play it for laughs. He’s so good with his brief screen time here. Tragically, Cloud passed from an overdose weeks after wrapping his part.

The filmmakers have spoken about a heaviness on set, not just because of Cloud’s departure but also star Barrera’s firing from the Scream franchise for speaking out against the war in Gaza. You couldn’t tell from the movie they made. Everyone here, on the screen and in the audience, appears to be having a good time.

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