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Movies & TV

17th Apr 2024

New Hollywood horror with huge Irish connection sure to be future Halloween classic

Stephen Porzio

Anchored by a tremendous performance by its Irish teen star, the movie brings fresh blood to a classic sub-genre.

Like clockwork every October 1, many movie fans around the world begin taking part in a challenge to watch 31 horror films during the month to mark the coming of Halloween. Some choose to revisit old classics, some use the time to catch up on new horrors, others do a mix of two.

Despite not even being four months into the year, 2024 has already blessed fans of the genre with plenty of new pleasingly creepy flicks to check out during that October period – from Ireland’s own Double Blind to Immaculate to Late Night with the Devil to even the under-sung, surprisingly spooky Night Swim.

If there has been a 2024 movie most likely to become a future Halloween staple, however, we’d argue its Abigail – which arrives in cinemas later this week and blends iconic horror tropes with more modern pacy, violent thrills to great effect.

A very loose re-imagining of ’30s flick Dracula’s Daughter, the film tells the story of a ragtag group of criminals previously unknown to each other who are hired to kidnap Abigail (14-year-old Irish actress Alisha Weir, Matilda the Musical), the young ballerina daughter of a very wealthy man.

After completing this job, the team are then tasked with watching over the child in a secluded mansion while they wait for a ransom.

The criminals soon find themselves trapped in the manor, however, as it is revealed that the seemingly sweet little Abigail is actually a bloodthirsty vampire.

Hailing from Irish writer Stephen Shields (The Hole in the Ground) and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not, the last two Scream sequels), the shot-in-Ireland Abigail – the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the River Liffey’s quays can be spotted as the criminals flee the scene of the kidnapping early on – should appeal to fans of From Dusk Till Dawn, with its transition from taut crime thriller to splattery horror.

This is to the extent that you almost wish the horror’s marketing team had hidden the big reveal around the title character from its trailers so that audiences could discover it for themselves to their shock in the theatre.

Then again, its easy to see why the promoters may have thought that highlighting Weir’s performance would encourage viewers to head into the theatres to see the film. That’s because the Matilda actress is really spectacular as Abigail – managing to effortlessly convince as both the scared vulnerable child she first appears to be and the charismatic, ruthless and downright scary monster she is in reality.

She’s ably supported by a fine cast playing the kidnappers. All of these characters are not the nicest of people – Dan Stevens in particular makes for a very funny dirtbag – but some are more sympathetic than others. These include the late and great Angus Cloud as the group’s clueless getaway driver, William Catlett’s pragmatic army veteran and Melissa Barrera as the member of the team most conflicted about the mission, given her personal life.

Shields and his co-writer Guy Busick do great work establishing that many of Abigail’s victims do to some extent deserve to incur the little girl’s wrath – they did after all agree to put her in peril. And incur her wrath they do as the movie’s central mansion location becomes increasingly flooded with blood, so much so that Weir told JOE in an interview that her real-life sister was “freaked out” by the levels of the red stuff during a set visit.

And yet even with this knowledge, we also are compelled by and care about the kidnappers, even hoping that some like Barerra’s Joey may manage to get away from the scene alive and unturned into a bloodsucker.

Watching Abigail unfold, you can tell the filmmakers had a blast working out all the dramatic possibilities of having a group of baddies trapped in a big house with a ballerina dancing vampire. And though the movie has one or two double crosses too many in its final act, it remains throughout a horror flick perfect to sink your teeth into both now in cinemas and again on a rewatch closer to Samhain.

Abigail is in cinemas on Friday.

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