Producers: William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Paul Neinstein, Tripp Vinson and Chad Villella   Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett   Screenplay: Stephen Shields and Guy Busick   Cast: Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Will Catlett, Kevin Durand, Angus Cloud, Alisha Weir, Matthew Goode and Giancarlo Esposito   Distributor: Universal

Grade: C-

Kidnapping a child can be a dangerous business.  As O. Henry made clear so memorably in “The Ransom of Red Chief,” the victim might prove an insufferable brat.  Or, as “Abigail” now warns, she might be a vampire ballerina.  The premise could stretch your capability of suspending belief well past the breaking point, and if not, the wallow in blood and gore that’s the movie’s way of fleshing it out may challenge your ability to watch it without retching.  Written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick as a modern reboot of Universal’s 1936 non-classic “Dracula’s Daughter,” it abandons that film’s emphasis on mood, opting for exposed viscera instead.

The picture begins with twelve-year old Abigail Lazar (Alisha Weir, from “Matilda: The Musical”) practicing “Swan Lake” in an empty auditorium before being driven home by the family chauffeur.  There she’s abducted by a motley team who drive her (much too fast through the city streets, given the possibility of being stopped for speeding) to an isolated mansion, where they meet their boss Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), the mastermind of the operation. 

He gives them nicknames, like the gang in “Reservoir Dogs”: Joey (Melissa Barrera), a recovering addict charged with being the only one to interact with the handcuffed girl; Frank (Dan Stevens), a supercilious ex-cop; Sammy (Kathryn Newton), a ditzy blonde hacker; Rickles (William Catlett), a beefy ex-Marine (and the obligatory black guy); Peter (Kevin Durand), a dim muscle-man; and Dean (Angus Cloud), a bummed-out skinhead.  The screenplay wastes a good deal of time dribbling out their sketchy back stories before proceeding to the main course.

That comes, of course, when Abigail gets loose and begins picking off the gang one by one in the most gruesome possible fashion, at first preferring decapitation but proceeding to other means.  By this time the girl has admitted she’s the daughter of Kristof Lazar (Matthew Goode), a notorious crime boss reputed to have an assassin at his disposal capable of infiltrating the most heavily guarded places and disposing of his enemies.  By this time Lambert has locked the place down and everyone is trapped inside with Abigail, who’s pirouetting about with lethal intent.

One might be inclined to raise some questions about this whole business.  What’s the purpose in assembling people to serve as courses in a vampire’s meal, given that the undead can attack anyone they like, anytime, anywhere?  And why have these particular folks been selected—is it purely random, or are they enemies of Kristof?  The script doesn’t bother to explain, though it does include one grisly set-piece indicating that the cellar is a dumping-ground for lots of decomposing corpses.

The goal of the writers and the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (who were responsible for the two recent “Scream” movies, as well as “Ready or Not”) is instead simply to jump from one scare sequence to another, amping up the level of violence and splatter with each repetition.  Most often an attack results in an icky death, but in some it leads to a victim becoming a vampire too, which allows for an occasional literally explosive end as a newly undead encounters a burst of sunlight and blows up, sending blood and guts flying everywhere. 

One doesn’t want to reveal too much about the big finale, but it’s not unfair to say that it gives Stevens—never the most subtle of actors in any circumstances—the opportunity to chew up not just the scenery but much else and Barrera, identified as the most sympathetic of the crowd by reason of having a son she wants to get back to, gets the chance to confirm her status as today’s most reliable last girl standing.  And you can be certain that Daddy shows up to comfort his little darling.

All the cast do what the plot requires of them, which isn’t much beyond overacting, though young Weir manages the physical demands of the title role well, presumably with some discreet outside assistance.  The effects and makeup team revel in the excess (lots of prosthetic teeth are required), and the interior of the mansion has been nicely constructed by production designer Susie Cullen, the gloominess captured in Aaron Morton’s dank cinematography and accentuated by Brian Tyler’s droning score, which of course perks up in the innumerable jump scares.  Michael P. Shawver’s editing isn’t terribly successful in clarifying the house’s topography, though, and often comes across as dilatory, letting the thin narrative run on for well over a hundred minutes.

“Abigail” offers little that’s new among the recent run of horror movies—the cracked ballerina business apart—but offers more of the same.  For fans of the genre, that may be enough.