Abigail: Gloriously gory proof that kidnapping Dracula’s daughter is a bad idea

Alisha Weir and Kathryn Newton in Abigail
Alisha Weir and Kathryn Newton in Abigail - Bernard Walsh/Universal

Matilda’s Alisha Weir is an absolute force in Abigail – a force of darkness, on this occasion, though you’d never know it from her pirouetting on stage to Swan Lake as the film begins. The prim ballerina of the title, who’s the pampered darling of a daddy we don’t meet, she gets chauffeured home, only to be violently kidnapped by a sextet of hard-bitten criminals out for millions in ransom money.

Big mistake. The “safe” house her abductors get is a fortified castle like something out of Universal Horror, only with a pool table and fully stocked bar. Long before realising it’s a trap, they’re on edge; with none previously acquainted, they use the names of the Rat Pack to avoid spilling their identities.

“Joey” (tough nut Melissa Barrera) sizes them all up in seconds, deducing that “Frank” (a bespectacled Dan Stevens) is a vicious ex-cop who’s gone rogue, while “Sammy” (Blockers’ great-value Kathryn Newton) is a rich girl only in it for the kicks.

Those kicks, in this horror-thriller mash-up, prove bloodier than anyone bargained for. It figures that the directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, made the last two Scream films, with the resilient Barrera following them along. We’re invited to play the game of guessing who’s first for the chop, with the added twist of that person’s head coming loose, thanks to something’s fangs.

Vampire lore could have been just another excuse for irksome meta japery, but it’s nearly an hour until the v-word’s even required. Even then, the filmmakers keep the chatter on point as well as funny.

As a result, it’s easily their best film since the hunt-the-bride horror-comedy Ready Or Not (2019), which lends to this an all-but-identical chateau setting and the same commitment to escalating splatter. It knows its audience and doesn’t waste time. It also heightens the fun with elaborate practical effects, rather than blitzing us with eye-tiring CGI any more than it must.

Given their stock turns, the actors make the most of their main task, which is sledging one another. Take Stevens: his flair for playing sarcastic bad eggs in clever trash may have become a new default, but his reaction shots to being sprayed explosively by geysers of gore are always worth the wait.

Alisha Weir in Abigail
Alisha Weir in Abigail - Bernard Walsh/Universal

The wicked fillip is watching Weir, who is no one’s whimpering hostage, go ballistic. While Abigail may or may not literally be Dracula’s daughter, you can readily imagine them as classmates. Her lethal ballet moves, daintily stepping along banisters before spinning in the direction of someone’s throat, outdo even the much-memed kills in the robot-doll thriller Megan.

Weir proves more than up to the challenge of a long, taunting, Hannibal-Lecter-like monologue while imprisoned in a cage. There’s no keeping her behind bars, though. Screaming, swearing, unleashing a feral malice that really hits the spot, she’s so good it’s alarming. If you could even accuse her of having had an “ingratiating moppet” phase, this devious romp just drove a stake right through it.

18 cert, 109 min.In cinemas from Friday April 19