Interview: Abigail directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin on the beauty of ballet and bloodshed in their heightened vampire flick

Children can be such monsters.

After a group of would-be criminals kidnap the 12-year-old ballerina daughter of a powerful underworld figure, all they have to do to collect a $50 million ransom is watch the girl overnight.  In an isolated mansion, the captors start to dwindle, one by one, and they discover, to their mounting horror, that they’re locked inside with no normal little girl.

From Radio Silence, the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett behind the terrifying modern horror hits Ready or Not, 2022’s Scream and last year’s Scream VI, comes Abigail, a brash, blood-thirsty new vision of the vampire flick.

To coincide with the film’s global release this week, Peter Gray spoke with a bevy of the film’s creatives, closing out with the Radio Silence duo on incorporating the beauty of ballet amongst the bloodshed and going “fucking crazy” with their blood quota on set.

As a lifelong fan of the Scream movies, what you both did with 5 and 6…I was so proud as a fan.  So, thank you.

Tyler Gillett: Oh, thanks so much.  That means a lot.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Yeah, it really does.

And, as an Australian, you giving Samara Weaving both Scream VI and Ready or Not makes me very happy, because I think we need her in everything!

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Everything!

Tyler Gillett: We love Samara.

And obviously working with her twice, you’ve worked now with Melissa (Barrera) more than once.  Was she always your first pick for the role of Joey?

Tyler Gillett: Yeah, it was an easy choice for us.  Melissa is a dear friend, and she’s just such a powerhouse.  You know, with this role, it felt like there was something really exciting to us about not only evolving our creative relationship over three movies now, two of which are definitely in a franchise, and this one, which is much more original and liberated in terms of how we approached it.  But just getting to see her take what she learned about playing an anti-hero character and bringing a totally different flavour to that type of character, and deploying a tonne of emotional stuff, and action…Melissa is just game for every single bit of it, and does it all with such ease.  I mean, she’s really just such a joy to work with.

I was lucky enough to speak with Melissa for Scream, and I wanted to say to her about how incredible her stabbing the shit out of Jack Quaid was, but I couldn’t spoil it then.  But that made me think about the way you guys do horror, and there’s always such intricate choreography in terms of the violence.  But then here you have that dance element.  Was it difficult incorporating the ballet, Alicia’s movements, and the violence?

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin:  We actually found out they go together really well.  It started as a little idea that (Abigail) was a dancer, and then it kinda grew from there the more we found out Alisha (Weir) was incredibly talented at it and could learn really quickly.  We worked with our choreographer, Belinda Murphy, who, with Alicia would work out the violent scenes.  They would prepare specific bits, and then come to us and show it to us.

A lot of the times, what we’d end up doing is we do a take with the dance, and then a take without so that we could kind of calibrate the level in the edit.  But what we found out is that the more the dance was incorporated into the violence and the chasing, the more unique it felt and the more fun it felt.  It kind of captured the tone we were going for in a really great way, and that kind of gracefulness of the dance and the chaos of the violence just fit together like a glove.

There’s that one great little moment where she does the jump over the dead body, and it’s that that make me feel like you’ve found that perfect balance between comedy and horror.  I went into this with relatively high expectations, because of what you’ve done already, but this exceeded everything I expected.  I knew about blood canons, and then seeing it, I was like, “Holy shit!”  At this point do you feel like there’s ever such a thing as too much blood?

Tyler Gillett: I mean, I think at this point, we’re weirdly desensitised.  How much blood? That was one of the first thing people told us, like, “Yo, you guys went fucking crazy with the blood in this movie!” And we’re like, “We did?”

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: “Really?”

Tyler Gillett:  But I think that’s sort of the fun of the tone and the heightened reality of this movie.  You can have a 13-year-old ballerina in a tutu in a scene that’s bathed in blood, and I think, for us, that was just such a fun and distinct kind of iconic visual that we were just obsessed with.  And I think we’re kind of chasing the feeling of that visual throughout the movie.

Abigail is screening in Australian theatres from April 18th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.