Radio Silence’s Abigail: A Dracula Movie That Says ‘F*** the Lore’

We take you inside the House of Abigail, a pint-sized vampire who's making a meal out of a new horror-comedy from the directors of Ready or Not and Scream VI, and which stars Dan Stevens and Melissa Barrera.

Alisha Weir as Abigail in vampire movie Abigail
Photo: Universal Pictures

Glenmaroon House hunches at the top of a long driveway, the severe angles of its walls and joints softened by climbing ivy and deepening twilight shadows. A bronze elk statue towers over the drive’s wet flagstones, antlers pointing to the treeline as though the creature was frozen as it fled the house’s open front doors, the darkness within. Much like the team of criminals at the center of Abigail, Universal Pictures’ upcoming horror movie, Den of Geek is invited to cross the threshold and spend (part of) the night inside to do a job. 

Our stakes might not be as high as the tensions at play in Abigail, but rest assured that we will not make it to morning without getting a little bloody.  

When members of the press visited the Dublin set in June 2023, Universal was still keeping most details of its upcoming horror movie private. All that was known at the press was Scream VI directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (two-thirds of the production collective called Radio Silence) were brought into the Universal’s toybox to breathe new life into a dead (or undead) cinematic classic monster in the vein of 2020’s The Invisible Man or, theoretically, 2023’s Renfield, a less successful horror-comedy mashup. 

Rest assured that Abigail is firmly in the horror genre. But most of its central characters don’t know this when they arrive at Wilhelm Manor, the foreboding country house that serves as the story’s primary location. Brought together to steal something valuable belonging to an anonymous, wealthy underworld figure, the five strangers learn that their heist is in fact a kidnapping—and the little girl they’re holding for a $50 million dollar ransom is more connected to the underworld than they ever imagined. What was supposed to be an easy, 24-hour babysitting job explodes into a bloody fight to survive a deadly game of Abigail’s predatory design.

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“It’s a heist movie that gets hijacked by a monster movie,” Bettinelli-Olpin enthuses between camera set-ups.

We’re shown a 3D miniature model of a downtown Boston neighborhood laid out across a dining table, tiny cars labeled and positioned along tree-lined streets—prepwork for the filming of a chase scene that culminates in Abigail’s abduction. That complicated driving stunts will actually be the calm before the film’s main plot kicks in speaks to how much of the story’s setup is a tonal misdirect.

Though Abigail was originally reported as an adaptation of Universal’s little-seen Dracula’s Daughter, Abigail’s parentage is about all it has in common with the original 1936 Universal classic. Maybe. Newly freed from the confines of the blockbuster Scream franchise, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are excited to tell a standalone story exactly how they envision. Comparisons to Radio Silence’s other survival horror movie set in a mansion, Ready or Not, are also inevitable. But the duo is aware of that. 

“This is Ready or Not on steroids,” Gillett says. 

Abigail vampire attacks Katryn Newton

Inside The Vampire’s Den

Located a few miles north of Dublin, Glenmaroon is a perfect metaphor for Abigail’s cross-genre story; the sprawling estate actually boasted two separate houses until an addition was built to connect them in the early 1900s. For Abigail, the historic home has gotten a makeover more befitting Hannibal Lecter than Glenmaroon’s most famous owner, beer magnate Sir Arthur Guinness.

Buttery lamplight illuminates the grand Y-shaped staircase in the center of the foyer and pools upon the polished parquet floors. Dozens of racks of antlers are mounted on the walls and festoon chairs and chandeliers, drawing eyes up to the house’s original red and white plastered ceiling. There is a lot of distressing taxidermy. It’s the kind of home seen in The Haunting of Bly Manor, only even more disorienting and threatening when you’re actually on-set navigating dark, narrow hallways crowded with production ephemera like cables and monitors, crates and crew members.

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The shadows were hard to find during the three weeks of filming at Glenmaroon (more than half of Abigail’s total filming time). Producer Ron Lynch found the most challenging part of filming exteriors at night were the long days. At the time of our visit, Dublin was four days past the summer solstice, with some of the latest sunset times in the Northern hemisphere. Not ideal conditions for filming a vampire movie. 

We’re given ample opportunity to traipse up and down stairs, trying to guess what’s original to the house and what was brought in by production. Mostly, it was the latter, though the musky scent of old books and portraits of long-dead aristocrats feel extremely authentic.

Unlike Ready or Not, the manor seems like a character in its own right. And we’ve stepped into a hunter’s lair.

Many of the cast and crew admit Glenmaroon is a bit creepy. Actor Will Catlett (Black Lightning, Lovecraft Country) portrays a military veteran on the heist team decked out in tactical gear, including a gun holstered at his waistband. Catlett is as easygoing as he is large, but he seems open to what the house might contain. “You walk through doors and you feel a coldness on your face and you know this place has history.” 

Before you start to think you’re in a ghost story, there are sudden visceral reminders that the horrors in this house can definitely rip you to pieces. 

One of the most colorful chambers we were shown was a basement control room. Bright red blood was splattered across a bank of surveillance monitors on a metal desk. The white tile floor was drenched in more crimson, and globs of glistening flesh and guts dripped from the fluorescent overhead lights; a very fresh, messy kill for someone who may or may not have been human. We rifle through some papers on the desk and discover they’re autopsy notes and ominous lists of names we’re pretty sure are no longer among the living.

And though we were warned not to step in the viscous corn syrup, it was impossible not to track a little of the sticky stuff on your shoes—there was simply too much of it.

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“We heard this on the last two Scream movies,” Bettinelli-Olpin begins. “The right amount of blood [according to] our special effects and makeup teams is always half of what we want. Like last week was a fucking bloodbath.” 

The co-directors beam with pride.

Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, and Melissa Barrera in Abigail Cast

Meet the Crew

The scenes we watched being filmed on our night’s visit take place early in the movie when the heist team first arrives at the manor. 

Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, The Mandalorian) plays Lambert, a middleman between the heist crew and the big boss holding their reward. Standing above the other actors on the foyer’s grand staircase, Esposito commands attention with his composed voice and neatly tailored blue suit. Lambert lays down the rules for the evening: no real names, no questions asked. It’s very Reservoir Dogs. He christens each criminal with a pseudonym based on old Hollywood’s Rat Pack—cheeky foreshadowing of the cat-and-mouse game soon to commence.

The crew is unknown to each other, or at least is supposed to be, and the actors playing the characters developed personal backstories unique to their roles. There’s “Peter,” played by Kevin Durand (Vikings, The Strain) who at six and a half feet is most definitely about “tenderizing the meat of your face.” Kathryn Newton, recently starring in the lively Lisa Frankenstein, is the resident hacker Sammy—with cool outfits and tattoos to match. The getaway driver is “Dean,” portrayed by Euphoria’s Angus Cloud, who passed away shortly after Abigail finished principal photography. The first crew member to sarcastically joke that the fake names are dated is Catlett’s well-armed tactician, which earns him the nickname “Rickles,” in homage to the comedian.

“Frank” (Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’s Dan Stevens) is a bespectacled New Yorker who intimates he was once a dirty cop with mafia connections. He has less of a clear role in the crew; in fact, Stevens laughs when he tells us about his character. “He just seemed to be an asshole. And maybe, you know, bosses are just assholes.” Frank simmers with resentment over the evening’s job and its secrets. He’s the self-appointed leader of the crew.

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“Or so he thinks,” Melissa Barrera (Scream VI, In the Heights) laughs. Stevens fires back, “But he’s swiftly undermined.”

The leads’ tongue-in-cheek dynamic is perhaps fitting since Frank is particularly wary of Barrera’s “Joey,” the young woman tasked with being the only person on the team allowed to have direct contact with the captive Abigail. In the scene we watch being filmed, Joey is upset that she hadn’t been told the valuable object she was stealing was a little girl. She has a mother’s concern for her charge and a background as an Army medic, but will this help her when the truth about Abigail is revealed?

Working with Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett so soon after Scream VI felt familiar, of course, but liberating too since this time Barrera and the directors were free from franchise constraints.

“There’s no pressure, but also all the pressure,” she says. “With Scream there’s a lot to live up to what the fans want and still be creative. Abigail is a clean slate. And we’re all excited we can tell a new story, a fresh story, and we can do whatever we want.”

Creative collaboration was a big part of Abigail’s production. The entire cast was encouraged to bring the broad strokes of their characters into tighter focus with the actors’ individual input fleshing out the details. It’s why Durand, a French-Canadian, gave Peter a background as a Quebecois hockey enforcer with a language barrier. Sammy’s “Fuck Mom” hand tattoos were originally Newton’s idea for her audition. Stevens, Bettinelli-Olpin, and Gillett agreed Frank should wear his signature glasses as a nod to their favorite cringe comedy, I Think You Should Leave

“I’m in a horror movie?!” Esposito jokes, greeting us journalists with (hopefully) feigned dread.

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No longer the picture of cool composure like Gustavo Fring or Moff Gideon and, now, Lambert, Esposito warmly regales journalists with philosophical ruminations on acting, personas and masks, the abusive upbringing under an Italian military father that informs his approach to screen villainy, and a pertinent quote from Irish author Oscar Wilde about art seeking to disturb the monotony of type: “The reduction of man to the level of a machine.” 

It’s all heady stuff, but intentional, and part of what makes Abigail a true ensemble effort.

“There’s this idea of anonymity that’s at work during the entire story,” Gillett explains. “The fun of watching these characters confront Abigail means they have to let this facade of how they’re presenting themselves fall. And so a lot of the reveals in this story are actually really, really emotional and about these characters getting real with themselves and with each other as they confront this outside force.”

Ultimately connecting with these very human, very messy characters, makes the scary moments even more terrifying.

Daddy’s Little Monster

Abigail ‘s vampire lore plays with fan expectations—especially if those fans love the more over-the-top gore and humor of The Lost Boys and Fright Night instead of the brooding immortals of Interview with the Vampire. Bram Stoker’s hand may loom large over the movie, but it mostly remains hidden in shadows. While the Rat Pack may know of vampires from movies and TV, meeting one in real life provides a lot of comedy as they try to wrap their brains around the sudden supernatural reveal. 

“Honestly, it’s a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the lore,” says Gillett. “The rule of vampires is that there are no rules.”

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Excited by the genre mashup, Radio Silence and Universal’s biggest challenge was finding the perfect child actor to cast in the title role. Abigail hinges on the believability of its title character, and playing Abigail’s innocent facade and vicious blood lust is a tall order of any actor, especially a young one. Alisha Weir (2022’s Matilda the Musical) and her talent were unanimously brought up as a must-see by all of the cast and crew. At only 13 years old, Weir stunned the directors with a stellar audition. 

“There was a moment in the sides that she was reading where she had to switch from a young girl to this jumpscare vampire moment,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “It was really clear that we’d hit gold with her.” 

Weir was thrilled to be in her first horror movie, having watched many with her sisters. A Dublin native, she enjoyed frequent family set visits and got to return to her own home every night, which helped provide normalcy after long days of filming. Abigail’s supernatural abilities also involved a lot of fun but complex choreography, particularly the wirework required to make the tiny vampire fly. Despite being a skilled dancer, Weir was not trained in ballet and had never gone en pointe; dancing on one’s toes can take a ballerina years to learn, but Weir had only weeks to rehearse. Abigail also has several types of fangs, depending on the activity, all of which were giant prosthetics that didn’t make speaking in an American accent easy. 

Even though much of her filming days were spent covered in fake blood, some scenes were a bit too realistic-looking for the young actor. Weir admits that she may have gotten too freaked out watching a key set piece that involved Kathryn Newton’s character crawling through a swimming pool of corpses. (The “fucking bloodbath” Radio Silence referred to earlier in our visit, which Newton later called “the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had in the best, coolest way.”) 

Weir’s more seasoned co-stars all took her under a bit of a protective wing, but Barrera’s character Joey spent the most time with Abigail, and she and Weir became close offscreen too. While Joey may have to question if her empathy toward Abigail is misguided or being used as a ploy by the devious bloodsucker, the pair’s admiration for each other is genuine. 

“Alisha is such a pro,” Barerra enthuses. “To see her just go fully in, fearlessly and committed, was so inspiring to watch and I just love getting to share one of her first big movies. I know that she’s just gonna become this worldwide superstar and I’m gonna always say that I worked with her in one of her first movies.” For Weir, Barerra offered lots of laughs, kindness, and helpful advice for a new actor at the center of a large cast of veterans.

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“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Weir says.

Weir’s talents are on full display in the film’s trailer, but Radio Silence firmly believes being open about Abigail’s vampiric nature means audiences can focus on the over-the-top tone and big character-driven moments. However, one key aspect of Abigail has been sealed tightly in its coffin: Who is Abigail’s father, really? 

Without any casting leaks or cast comments forthcoming, the mysterious underworld boss intentionally hangs over the film like Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects. While he may not get much screen time, he still applies a crucial pressure to all of the characters, including Abigail. What might happen when Daddy gets home?

“You’re just gonna have to wait,” Weir teases; perhaps we’re imagining things, but you can see a bit of Abigail’s mischievous glint in her eyes. 

In a film full of dueling ideas, the one sure thing is that Abigail is primed to be a genre-hopping creative dance around audience expectations and a chance for Radio Silence to showcase what a lot of creative fostering—and even more blood—can do for original horror stories. 
Abigail opens Friday, April 19.