FILM REVIEWS: Abigail and The Book of Clarence

Following on from TV comedy legend Peter Kay revisiting Westside’s giant Utilita Arena this week, both Odeon Broadway Plaza and Cineworld Broad Street are offering two more – and very different – ways of tickling your tummy buttons.

In the meantime, the giant Heidi’s Bier Bar on Broad Street is also looking to develop some comedy nights in the near future with a view to making them appeal to talent scouts… watch this space!

ABIGAIL (18, 109 mins). Gang members involved in a $50 million ransom plot soon regret kidnapping the 12-year-old ballerina daughter of a leading underworld figure.

The Universal picture then delivers a gleefully-gory, blood-and-guts revision of its own horror back catalogue, with additional Home Alone-tropes for young adults more familiar with Macaulay Culkin than Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney.

The verdict: *** Although the house setting limits the dynamism of the plot, which feels like a ‘Stakes Out!’ riff on Daniel Craig’s Knives Out, at least its built-in thirst for comedy restricts the need for too many sound-driven ‘jump scares’.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Scream, 2022), Abigail the film is haunted by its own lifelessly-dark sets, but the character herself is brightly played by the talented now 14-year-old Dublin-born actress Alisha Weir (Matilda: The Musical).

The British cast members include Godzilla x Kong star Dan Stevens as Frank, with University of Birmingham graduate Matthew Goode in ghoulish David Bowie mode as Father.

Horror comedies are still relatively rare, so it’s worth noting that An American Werewolf in London was one of the last films of any kind with an adult ‘X’ certificate – the replacement 18 certificate was introduced a year after its release on 12 November, 1981. Abigail is inevitably far more brutal and bloody – but unfortunately not as funny.

  • The film is dedicated to Euphoria star Angus Cloud who plays Dean. He died in July, 2023 from ‘an accidental multiple drug overdose’ just a week after burying his own father.

THE BOOK OF CLARENCE (15, 129 mins). Rapper LaKeith Stanfield takes the title role of a twin brother struggling to free himself from debt in this Biblical comedy set in Jerusalem in AD 33.

Clarence muses: “Varinia’s eyes are like poetry… I could take her hand in love if I become the 13th apostle of Jesus.”

Will the rise of the Messiah inspire him to lead a divine life or be his undoing in a film directed by London-born Jeymes Samuel?

Other stars include James McAvoy as Pontius Pilate with Benedict Cumberbatch even less recognisable as Benjamin, a beggar mistaken for Jesus and brutally crucified.

The verdict: ** Regardless of whether or not the stonings, crucifixions  and wilfully-unfocused story grab you, the woefully overlong film is still worth the admission price alone for the early shots of Matera, a World Heritage Site in southern Italy since 1993 and used for Mel Gibson’s The Last Temptation of Christ (2004) as well as James Bond’s No Time To Die (2021).

You can tell British cinematographer Rob Hardy (Civil War / Mission: Impossible – Fallout) is clearly delighted to be there, with most of the rest of the sub-Ben Hur / Spartacus film shot at Rome’s legendary Cinecittà Studios, previously used by Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York) and the late Anthony Minghella (The English Patient).

The score is an annoying patchwork of styles and clunky lines like ‘I am he who exists from the undivided’ and ‘This is going to require massive testicular fortitude’ drain energy from the script like a sieve.

No doubt, those who are easily offended soon will be. But, for all that, The Book of Clarence is at least trying to offer something different to the current norm.

PICTURE CREDITS: Abigail, Universal; The Book of Clarence, Sony Pictures.


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