‘Abigail’ extracts clever horror from a plot to kidnap a little girl gone wrong

‘Abigail’ extracts clever horror from a plot to kidnap a little girl gone wrong

A double attempt to revive the vampire and haunted house genres, “Abigail” could be called “Don’t Tell the Mother of My Child Died.” The simple premise, however, turns into an effective little horror film, a bit tense towards the end, but until then, the clever and inventive action of six people literally just trying to survive the night.

Of course, the child vampire has a solid history, including the creepy Swedish film “Let the Right One In” and the American remake, “Let Me In.” Universal has also sought to continue to squeeze fresh blood out of its monster properties, producing a mixed bag that includes “Renfield” and “The Last Voyage of the Demeter.”

“Abigail” probably owes more to the “Scream” franchise, which happens to be under the creative supervision of the directorial team behind this film, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, here working from a screenplay by Stephen Shields and Guy Sibuk. In addition, they reunite with “Scream” star Melissa Barrera, whose political comments prompted her departure from the franchise, leading a cast that includes Angus Cloud, the late actor of “Euphoria” fame.

Barrera and Cloud are joined by Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Kevin Durand and William Catlett as a team of anonymous rogues thrown together to kidnap a 12-year-old girl, a ballerina codenamed Tiny Dancer, a.k.a. Abigail (Alisha Weir, who plays another unusual – if less bloodthirsty – child in Netflix’s “Matilda the Musical”).

The promised payment from their handler (Giancarlo Esposito) is a $50 million ransom, to be taken from the child’s wealthy father. All the sextet had to do, they were told, was accompany the child for 24 hours in a remote mansion without a cell phone to avoid the temptation to connect with the outside world.

Simple enough, until bad things start happening, making the group wonder first who the girl’s father is, and then how someone seems to be picking on them in the most horrific way.

While there’s an obvious formula for this kind of fare, the filmmakers do their best to play with that, weaving in some pretty funny (and sometimes off-putting) dialogue that deals with the absurdity of the whole situation. While that ultimately led to at least one wrinkle too many, at the time “Abigail” delivered pretty much what audiences expected, plus a few surprises.

As far as that’s achieved without a lot of unnecessary exposition, or breaking excessive rules in terms of the understood parameters of a vampire story, the film overcomes an idea that frankly seems difficult to extend much beyond the next two minutes of attraction.

Chalk it up perhaps to modest expectations, but by that measure “Abigail” mostly made the right moves, and by the time it was over, the little dancer, and her captor, had indeed had a busy day.

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