‘Abigail’: Directing duo Radio Silence talk bloody details of this new film

Alisha Weir in ‘Abigail’

A young girl gets kidnapped for ransom by a group of rag-tag criminals and is held in a house, and that’s only where the danger startsfor the criminals. ‘Abigail’ is the latest feature from the directing duo Radio Silence (who also were behind the latest ‘Scream’ installments) aka Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. And what the film partners were interested in was an explosive (and extra bloody) story that tackles a few different genres, and the result is a really fun ride fueled by curious characters.

To chat a little more about the making of ‘Abigail’, Radio Silence sat down to delve into what sets this film apart from your typical heist and vampire story.

When you were approached by the studio with ‘Abigail’, what stood out to you and made you say, ‘This is something we want to tackle’? 

Bettinelli-Olpin: We loved the idea of a movie that starts as a heist movie that then just gets taken over by a monster movie. And the characters that get to see us through the movie felt to us [like] a really exciting opportunity to create some fun, unique characters that down the line we could get some great actors who could come in and bring it to life. I think we just saw the opportunity for a lot of fun and a lot of great character stuff underneath this high concept of a heist movie hijacked by a vampire movie, and it drew us in right away. 

(from RIGHT) Sammy (Kathryn Newton), Peter (Kevin Durand), Joey (Melissa Barrera) and Rickles (William Catlett) in Abigail, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett.UNIVERSAL PICTURES

You mentioned the characters, and that’s what I really loved about the movie—It was fun to see them all on their own journeys throughout the film. Which character or characters were fun for you, as the directors, to flesh out?

Gillett: They really all were—and I know that sounds sort of like a cop-out, but I think that one of the things that emerged for us over the course of shooting and then over the course of the edit was just how many wonderful choices the actors were gifting us with every single day and how consistent they were.

I think that we are amazed that Dan (Stevens) was able to achieve the level of Frank throughout the movie, and that Peter (Kevin Durand) was able to be this big scary sort of menacing force that also gets more lapse than any other character in the movie. There’s a sort of duality to everybody and their approach, and it was really fun to keep all of those flavors alive and to give everyone their moments.

Bettinelli-Olpin: All of the actors made such strong choices. One of the jokes we had on set is that they were all in different movies—and I mean that in the best way, usually that’s a negative. But for this movie, it was so specifically exactly what we wanted. And I think them feeling like they could lean into those kind of weird traits that their characters had and that they gave them is what makes it really special. 

That’s interesting—the mashing of genres can be tricky, but it comes across so well in this film, and I have to say in your other film ‘Ready or Not’ as well. As directors, how do you guide everyone to make it feel cohesive in the end? 

Gillett: I think the most important thing is that at the center of whatever the chaos or the genre element of the movie is, you have to have a character who is a representation of the audience. And that’s Melissa (Barrera) in this movie. She’s always approaching the situation as grounded and as real as possible. 

I think if you have a character like that [where] so much of the weight of the movie is resting on that character’s story, then you’re able to take weirder and wider swings with the rest of the ensemble. As long as you check in with that character and they go, wait a minute, no, no, this is what’s happening—everybody shut the f**k up and pay attention. You have to have somebody who’s able to kind of corral the crazy energy from all of the other characters. 

‘Abigail’ takes place in one house—which is really fun for a film like this. I saw you found this house in Ireland. What do you look for in locations? Both with the technical side of the shoot, and also, the design side? 

Gillett: It’s a mix of both. Technically, you just have to be aware of the utility of the space and what you might have to do to the space in order to achieve the action sequences. We knew that there were going to be multiple instances where Alisha and some of the other cast were going to have to be on wires. You have to choose a location where they’re going to be okay with putting pick points into walls and studs and look, there’s just a certain amount of amount of damage that gets done to a space—but then of course, you fix [it] up at the end of the shoot. 

And then the other thing is, especially for a movie that like you said, takes place in mostly one large location, is making sure that there’s room for it to evolve visually…That it never feels like even though maybe you’re going all over the house, you’re kind of standing in the same room. That was a long conversation we had with our production designer and our DP to make sure that as the film deteriorates, it feels like you’re going to the darker, more rundown, more abandoned, more dilapidated parts of the house. And I think that we really achieved that. 


The film involves vampires, and we’ve seen shows and movies tackling this subject before. What were some elements of vampire lore that you wanted in the film? And then what did you want to make uniquely your own to ‘Abigail’? 

Bettinelli-Olpin: I think we wanted to have fun with the vampire lore that we all know and that we all kind of accept as the rules…But when we went back and watched a bunch of the vampire movies we love, we realized that those rules are very give and take. So it allowed us the space to kind of set some expectations, subvert some expectations, and then sort of choose the ones that we wanted to really steer into for this one. 

In the end, and I don’t want to give away too much, but there were certain stuff that happens where we were like, cool, we can do that…. Why not? This is our vampire movie, we want to put our stamp on it. I think the lore in the previous movies being so vast allowed us to do that. It really made it fun because we never felt like we had to be overly loyal to anything. And I think that is why it feels original, because we were able to create so much of it from just whole cloth. 

Abigail‘ hits theaters April 19.