Bullying is a serious problem that could destroy people’s lives. Countless genre films have been made about this, including High Tension, Frontiers, and the extremes of Audition. The theme of a female protagonist doing evil things to males for various reasons is handled exceptionally well in the darkly humorous and deadly Abigail. Directed by Melissa Vitello and written by Gunner Garrett, the film is startlingly frank in its details while flowing towards a starling denouement of continued exploits.
Set in 1976, this horror thriller opens with a butchering of a couple parked out in the middle of nowhere. The significance of this opening evolves as the story progresses. We are then quickly introduced to the main character, Abigail (Ava Cantrell), and her mother, Eve (Hermione Lynch). They are moving to a “dirtball” of a town in rural Alabama. This place is desolate, with one school, and everyone seems to live in trailers in the bush.
Abigail introduces herself to her oafish neighbor Lucas (Tren Reed-Brown). He is constantly told he is stupid and in the way by his mother, Donna (Karimah Westbrook), and others. The two become friends, and it becomes evident that both are troubled but have taken different paths to cope. Abigail lost her father in an incident and is bothered by her domineering but well-meaning mother. When walking to school, Abigail and Lucas run into Daniel (Trace Talbot) and his friend, who has been bullying Lucas. Abigail’s dark side takes hold when she announces she’s “nobody’s bunny” and takes on both bullies.
“Abigail’s dark side takes hold when she…takes on both bullies.”
Abigail then becomes an exploration of the titular character’s dark side and temper. Her evil resourcefulness grows more and more as she and Lucas become closer, even boyfriend/girlfriend in an odd way. The two break the trailer windows of their tormentors, which launches her into a brilliant campaign to stop the bullies. Lucas, enticed by Abigail, joins in and learns how to fight back. Vitello has a real flare for filling the background and foreground of the frame with interesting details and people. In one sequence, Abigail and Lucas are attacked by Daniel and his buddy with a baseball bat. Abigail saves the day and then prompts Lucas to hit the withering bullies again and again. The chaotic revenge reaches fever pitch, culminating in a revelation of an extreme father/daughter relationship.
The cast carries the film. Cantrell’s quirky giggles, matter-of-fact pitch, and ability to turn on/shut off the waterworks and mayhem make for a brilliant portrayal. Reed-Brown is the perfect foil against Cantrell. The actors work well together with speech patterns, body language, and enough control to not let the film spin away into a blood-and-guts farce. The entire cast carries the film. Westbrook’s look that seems straight out of one of the tenement house women in Ralph Bakshi’s animated classic Heavy Traffic helps audiences buy her as an abusive, neglectful mom.
Abigail is a brilliant film showcasing the problem of bullying. The actors add to the weight of the story. This could be viewed with Ty West’s Pearl, as Abigail’s trajectory is similar to the titular Pearl. Cantrell drives the film, but an excellent supporting cast surrounds her. Well-paced, directed, and written, this stands tall as a little film that achieves its goals.