Horror

‘Abigail’ – Meet the Criminals Behind the Heist-Turned-Vampire Horror Movie [Set Visit]

A group of would-be criminals kidnap the 12-year-old ballerina daughter of a powerful underworld figure, only to find themselves locked inside with an actual monster vampire in Universal Pictures’ Abigail.

Abigail, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and written by Stephen Shields (The Hole in the Ground, Zombie Bashers) and Guy Busick (Scream franchise, Ready or Not), transforms a heist movie into a full-blown bloodbath.

That gore was on prominent display last summer when Bloody Disgusting was invited to the set of Abigail, filmed in the birthplace of vampire horror originator Bram Stoker: Ireland. It wasn’t just the sheer volume of fake blood and viscera that was prominently displayed on set, but the glowing praise for the young Irish actor playing the central vampire, Alisha Weir.

Weir’s breakout role as Matilda in 2022’s Matilda the Musical established her talents, but Abigail will showcase even more of the rising star’s range as she taps into her feral side and does her own stunts. That the film hinges on a 12-year-old-vampire meant that Weir was a very lucky find for directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

Gillett says of casting Weir, “I mean, it was incredible. That that was our big source of anxiety going into this project. Just on the page, Abigail is such a character, and so much of what’s fun and interesting about the tone of the movie is about the contrast between this innocent child becoming this horrific monster. I think we knew that the movie was only going to be as good as that role was because it’s the linchpin of everything. So yeah, I mean, there was a lot of anxiety in the casting process.

“We met Alicia and it was just, I mean, we were immediately texting each other, ‘She’s so incredible.’ Just the way she presents herself, she’s so kind and so curious. Then she did a live read on that Zoom and there was a moment in the side that she was reading where she has to switch from young girl to this jump scare vampire moment. She committed so fully to it on the Zoom that it actually scared us on a Zoom audition.”

Though Weir is no stranger to extensive choreography thanks to her role in Matilda, she was excited to tackle her first horror movie and the technical challenges that brought.

Alisha Weir as Abigail

Alisha Weir as Abigail in Abigail, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

“Yes, it’s definitely very different,” Weir reflects. “In Matilda, there was lots of dancing, but Matilda wasn’t really in loads of the group scenes. She was mainly just overlooking it. But in Abigail, I got to go on point and do lots of stunts, which was incredible. I hadn’t really trained in ballet. I’d done a little bit of it, but I had never gone on point, so I was so excited about that. Then the stunts were completely different, and there were lots of rehearsals for the stunts as well as there was a big fight scene at the end of the movie that took a good few weeks of rehearsing for it.

“But it was so much fun, and I kept coming home to my mom and my dad and I was telling them the things that I was doing and my sisters, and I think they were looking at me like, ‘Are you sure you’re definitely flying and punching and kicking?’ When they’ve seen the film then they believed in me, but it was amazing and I had so much fun getting to do all the stunts.”

Before Abigail reveals her monstrous side, she forges a bond with the kidnapper designated as the team’s caretaker of sorts: Melissa Barrera’s Joey. Barrera and Weir walk us through the relationship between their characters in the film.

Barrera explains, “I think it definitely starts off that Joey feels really bad that they kidnapped a little girl. She didn’t know that they were going for a little girl. She says that she wouldn’t have done it if it was a little girl. I don’t know if that’s 100% true. I think she lies to herself a lot because a lot of people that are questionable people that have made a lot of mistakes in life, I think lie to themselves to make themselves feel better. But she definitely needs this money, or she thinks that she needs this money to be able to become a better person and a better mom.

“So, at the beginning, I think she’s trying to resist forming any connection with Abigail. She’s trying to be as professional as she can, even though she feels very protective of the girl. But then Abigail is so stinking cute and sweet and starts wanting to get to know Joey. So, immediately, you can see how Joey is going into mom mode and assure her that she’s going to be okay and that she’s going to take care of her. That happens really quickly.

Abigail Overlook Film Festival 2024 - gory horror Abigail set visit

Melissa Barrera as Joey in Abigail, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett.

That’s why when Abigail turns, Joey feels so shocked and betrayed and angry, because she understands that she’s been played and that it was all acting from Abigail. She feels really angry, and she thinks that they just have to do whatever. She doesn’t care about this vampire little girl anymore. She’s like, ‘We just have to survive.’ But then, when push comes to shove, I think their connection was real in a way. Underneath everything, there is a bond that when they do that pinky promise, there is some connection that is underneath it all. That’s the crux of the movie: Joey is trying to figure out what’s real, what’s not, what feelings of empathy to listen to, and whether she’s still being played or not with Abigail. That’s the back and forth that conflicts her throughout the movie.”

Weir responds to Barrera, “Well, yeah. I think you really said it there. Abigail does really take advantage of Joey, but there always is that bond, and I think that’s because she finds out that you have a son as well, and that really helps. That’s where the bond starts and where it unfolds. Although she is there on a mission and why she is there, although however many times she’s done this, she’s never really made a connection with someone that’s been kidnapping her, so I think that’s why in the movie, she doesn’t expect that and, although she is putting on an act and playing a different part, she still is in some ways being honest about some things that she says to Joey.”

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Abigail’s not your typical fanged vampire; she’s got a mouthful of shark-like chompers. While navigating an American accent with large vampire teeth presented another challenge for Weir, it turns out there was an unexpected perk to playing a vampire.

Abigail

“It was very different putting on the teeth,” Weir says. “Well, first of all, I had an American accent, so that was different. Then I had the teeth, and then I had to practice working with the teeth and then with the accent as well. Then there were also stunt teeth, and the stunt teeth were bigger than them. They were like gum shields; they took up your whole mouth. I had to practice working in them. It was crazy, but it was so much fun, and I loved wearing the teeth. When I took them out, my teeth felt super weird. They felt really light because they were so heavy. But it was so much fun. It’s not every day, and it’s not that you can say a lot that you’ve played a ballerina vampire that wears teeth that’s covered in blood and has eye contacts.” 

Barrera adds, “Alisha was obsessed with, there was a black sugary thing that they put in her mouth to make her tongue dark, and it tasted like candy, right?”

“It was so good,” Weir exclaims.

“She would be constantly asking for more and more and more of it,” Barrera teases. “They would be like, ‘Alisha, your tongue is still dark.” She’d be like, ‘No, a little bit more.’”

As for the vampire lore here, expect Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin to play around with it with a knowing wink.

Abigail trailer - blood bath

‘Abigail’

Gillett elaborates on this, “One of the really fun things for us was taking a monster like a vampire, if everybody has a notion of what that is, depending on the movies you were raised on and what you consider to be canon. Borrowing a little bit from the Scream movies, we loved this idea of taking all of those rules, throwing them all in one bucket, and then having characters within the story itself call those things out and have a conversation with themselves and the audience about how they feel about those rules, what can kill a vampire, all of the different offshoots of vampire lore. And I think that for us there was just a real opportunity for invention in that. It was really every step of the way, I think, just about taking what you might think or consider familiar and then finding a new and fun way to interpret it and flip it on its head and hopefully keep audiences surprised and guessing.

Then you have a great cast that gets to deliver all of those really wacky fun lines and ground all of the craziness of the vampire lore. I will say that just in terms of its connection to Dracula’s Daughter, I know that there was an inkling of that in the early Stephen Shields draft. I think that was definitely part of, I think what was cool in the hook of the movie. I think for us, we wanted to take that idea and to find a way to untether it from the rules of maybe an existing character or an existing franchise to create something that didn’t have maybe quite the same sort of small sandbox size that I think you can run into with franchises or characters like that. And kudos to Universal. They let us just swing wild. They kept telling us the weird stuff is working, so you might as well just make it weirder. Keep going. And we did.

Which brings us to one of Abigail’s overarching mysteries: her father.

Abigail action gory horror

(from left) Abigail (Alisha Weir) and Sammy (Kathryn Newton) in Abigail, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett.

Bettinelli-Olpin is careful to dodge any spoilers when pressed about Abigail’s dad.

“Man, that’s a tough one,” Bettinelli-Olpin answers. “He’s a big part of the story. His presence is the shadow that just goes over everything that’s happening. We talked about him a lot in the Keyser Söze sense. He’s almost at this point more of an idea than a person. Again, like what Tyler was saying, the great thing about working on this movie and working with Universal on it is that they wanted to make sure that we didn’t feel restricted by anything that had come previously, that this could be a wholly original idea. We got to really run with that. Just using that character throughout the movie as a way to apply pressure to our characters and their own interpretation of that character is really where the fun lies in the movie and in the way that creates a pressure point for everybody, including Abigail. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give anything away, but we had a lot of fun with it.”

Weir also touches on Abigail’s parentage by teasing her arc: “At the start of the movie, obviously she’s acting like this innocent sweet girl, and that’s why she looks so young, but she’s definitely not the age she looks. She’s been around for a long time, and she’s been living for a long time, and she’s been doing this for a very, very long time and tricking people. She’s become an expert and a pro at it now. Her relationship with her father, he is mysterious and there is so many twists and turns in this movie. I don’t want to give anything away about who her father is, but she definitely has a history with her father and a past with her father that you will find out during the movie. But he is an underworld crime boss, and he is mysterious.”

Abigail is only in theaters on April 19, and tickets are on sale now.

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