Harry Potter and The Piece of Junk : Abigail (2019) Review

I have kind of built up a reputation as a person who reviews weird or bad movies. However in the land of SteamPunk.. I do not have that many options… there is one.. and it will follow soon enough but for most of these I go in blind. Still you have heard me burn movies to the ground but also talk about movies that are so bad that it’s good!  Abigail is NOT so bad that it’s good. It is BAD … yet despite that it’s bad I just REALLY like it. 

The Engine of this Movie

Abigail is the title of a 2019 Russian movie directed by Aleksandr Boguslavskiy. It’s a movie that stars Eddie Marsan, whom you may know from Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Sherlock Holmes : A game of Shadows or V for Vendetta.  He plays the father of the title character Abigail who is played by Tinatin Dalkaishvili who played in movies.. whose title I can’t read. But one of them seems to be called 3BE3(The Letter A.. but it Melted)a.  She has a supporting cast of Gleb Bochkove, Artyom Tkachenko and  Rinal Mukametov and some others whose name I can’t  spell without looking at it a billion times. It currently holds a  4,9 score on IMDB based on 2766 reviews and a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews. Not exactly high scores and overall I would have to agree with the 5 out of 10 score.. if I review the separate elements.. but I had a lot of fun with this movie! 

The plot of the movie is fairly spoilery in itself. After all the plot is not really revealed for the first 20 minutes so if you are the no spoiler type of person look away now and pick up at the next paragraph. That being said, if you are a person of sound mind the plot will not hold surprises for you long as it is written for the young adults..early adolescent teens and preteens. If you are still here let’s discuss the basic plot. Abigail lives in a city that is closed off and ruled by a tyrannical government no one is allowed to cross “the boundary” because a disease roams there. This disease has also found its way inside their city walls..  when her father gets taken Abigail now grows up into a much harsher and insecure life.. however when she has come to age she learns the truth.. there is no disease. Magic exists and the government has fabricated all these lies to keep the mages out of the city. So the supreme leader is the only one that can do magic and can rule over all in a city of weak people to control! Abigail of course turns out to have magic and discovers a group of magical rebels..With them.. she might have a chance to save her father. In a weird way this movie very much feels like Steampunk Harry Potter (the movies, not the books) .

It’s Junk!

So normally I begin my reviews with naming the positives, however with this review I will get the negatives out of the way. When objectively critiquing a movie one might think to judge points like, Story, Acting, Effects/Looks and Direction and maybe Sound?  Either way this movie drops the ball on all of these aspects. Let’s begin with the Story. While the story of this movie isn’t all that bad the storytelling is horrendous. The story is cut together so rough it at times doesn’t even make sense. We barely know what is going on. Characters suddenly gain motivation at locations we aren’t even sure of what it is or have found themselves rather altered. Somewhere late in the movie Abigail goes to search a location with a theme of people.. literally one second later, they say they searched the entire place and that what they were looking for is not there and that is one of the more subtle cuts this movie makes. 

Characters gain crucial information on screen non stop, random characters are grabbed from the street and acted upon as if they are someone familiar. Even the part where Abigail is taught about Magic is kind of cut.. and this is a movie about her becoming a wizard. There is a lot of exposition about all the forms of magic though! Mages in this world do not use wands, they use junk like containers.. that work as a focus. Depending on if it’s a circle, a square or a triangle.. it does different things. Like square things are used for conjuration.. like summoning a wall of ice or rock , round things are used for evocation and basically are your main weapon and triangle things are used for alteration.. so to use wind to fly higher and stuff like that.. or at least I think it’s like that. It’s always kind of hard to see what kind of things they hold and I don’t think it’s that constantly used. Still there is some pretty interesting world building but.. we do not see the full story here..it feels more like a summary that misses some details.. and I mean that feeling is VERY strong.

This same behaviour is reflected in the direction, it is sometimes.. rather directionless. Shots are muddy and hold still on the wrong person. For example when there is a fight and one person is about to get a kill..the tension is in if they get the kill yet the shot cuts off to someone trying to stop them.. You don’t do that, you want them to fall over and then pan out to the person doing the shooting, it is much more dramatic that way. We get action shots of people walking into a sky fortress but instead of a sweeping overhead shot showing how big this place is.. we just walk in with the characters, we see the enemies with their backs turn.. not only would it not make sense for these guards to have their backs turned to your only entrance.. it also looks boring. First shot of the sky fortress and all we see is blacks and greys.  It kind of feels as if you are watching a soap opera instead of an epic fantasy movie.

That Soap Opera feeling is reflected through by FAR the worst thing this movie does.. it SOUNDS abysmal! This movie is shot entirely in Russia and done by russians but it got released mainly in English! I am not even sure there is a russian spoken version.. I assume there is but IMDB says there is not!  How did those russians speak english?! They got dubbed. The dub is bad… really really bad.. at least from our main character. It’s not that she is hard to understand.. but the delivery feels like she is reading her lines as a bedtime story to her kid… all the time! It feels like one of those older Tales of English Dubs. There is acting.. but it is all said so ridiculously audible that it sounds as if she is doing speech exercises.. It just feels so fake..  kind of like how germans dub things. Everything is so buttery smooth, there is no room tone, never a distortion or a broken line… all the sound is so clean no matter where they stand of if there are engines howling.

This hinders the acting as well, because we get this dissonant. We hear a character speak in a different emotion than we see on her face. Both the voice and the physical acting is overly expressive. Physically there is a lot of soap opera acting.. or how you see actors act on stage. It has something unnatural.. not that it is acting physically bad.. but more so.. this is not how a human would act in a certain situation. Characters that get slapped get the dramatic back of the hand slap so it looks more dramatic on camera or on stage and it doesn’t always match up with the acting we HEAR which amplifies both to look even weirder. At times I had a feeling I was watching a live action Cartoon or a live action anime even.. they are that dramatic as real people.. and that just looks weird.

Speaking of cartoons, some of the special effects look like they got rendered 20 years ago and thus have an incredibly cartoony feeling as well. The way magic works kind of looks cool, but you have no sense what is going on. But the airship, the fantastical creatures and some look like something you see on the SyFy Channel.. you know movies that are usually called Giant Terror Death Crab or  Terrible Terror Octopus.  It just looks too bright, as if shadows are missing or reflections and stuff.  I watch a lot of Corridor Crew videos and they told me how to trick their eyes into making cgi seem like part of the  experience.. this .. while it doesn’t look ugly does not do any blending at all.. it feels as if someone in photoshop is moving these things around. 

It’s Magic

And yet despite all of that, I had a wonderful time with this movie, which is weird because every single part of this movie kind of sucks. Yet that is the thing.. it just kind of sucks.  The story while it skips so much that is hard to follow is quite unique.  Magicians in a Steampunk world.. not being able to be killed because magic will always move on to the next person.. as energies can’t quell.. So instead the government has to find a way to get them all out? That is quite a neat idea. A government who strives for equality versus all versus a rebel group that strives for equality versus all is very interesting. These groups essentially have the same goal yet they are on opposite sites because one pursues no magic, while the other wants magic for everyone.. or no inequality for those who are magic at least. There are some really interesting concepts here. The way how magic works in this world following the principles of alchemy in a way.. is a very neat concept and it’s nice how subtle the references are at times! 

While the magic kind of looks awkward and you don’t really get what is going on.. the way of casting is quite unique.. It has this Harry Potter spell duel vibe.. but it feels much thicker.. less colour coded.. there is a lot of black and a lot of red in there.. but is it a fireball or is it arcane energy.. it isn’t exactly all that clear.  Yet that also makes it completely unique in it’s own way.. the fairy might look ugly but it is this movie fairy it doesn’t do that standard thing it is it’s own thing. The way it uses steampunk elements to work with casting.. not only in the devices but also in some magitech later on.. it’s charmingly unique in it’s very core.  It has something video-gamey .. or tabletop rpg like, with a major battle taking place with mages having their abilities nullified.. and the fight being on two fronts.. one with a very VERY videogamy puzzle and on the other hand a steampunk sword and crossbow fight that feels quite disney. .. if directed by a intern…

Even that super fake voice over at one point really kept me entertained.. not persé as a movie product but because it made me feel like I was playing an old timey rpg, or maybe listening to a fairytale audiobook or some youtuber do their own fanfiction  thing.  It felt cheap but in all the right ways… I did not enjoy it because it’s bad.. but it’s like seeing this helpless creature .. like a turtle on its back struggle! You just go N’awwww Abigail and you flip the turtle back up and you watch it hobble on for a bit still charmed by how klutzy that was. I always said I liked Pokémon that feel to clunky to be fully functional.. things  like Wobuffet, or Stunfisk or Dunsparce. This movie is a Dunsparce.  For those who don’t know Pokémon, I guess this movie feels like Krillin from Dragon Ball and subsequent stories.. mostly Z or Super Krillin… The movie is several steps behind the pack and gets blown away by just about everyone… but you can not help but care for the little thing!

It’s Fun

Using logic this thing.. it should not work.. this should not be as fun as it was to me.. and given that it’s only getting a 5 out of 10  by everyone else.. or even a 4 shows that.. but I argue that it is a 5 out of 10 movie because it is a 1 out of 10 movie and a 9 out of ten movie combined.  It has the charm that we can look past it’s flaws and say… sure little guy I had an okay time with you.  After bad dubbing, bad special effects, a cut up story and bad, bad direction (which I don’t have any justification for unlike the rest) what remains is still a movie that is okay. So in a way everything we can not quantify, anything that would be like the movies “feel” , the “spirit” it’s “emotional experience”  that is done so well that it makes this movie “watchable”. If we tally everything up.. we get a movie that is just watchable! This seems to be the consensus with movie goers that reviewed this as well… yet it reacts almost unlike anything else.

Nowadays when something scores a 7.0 it’s reviewed as if it is not worth watching, there is better stuff out there. Something that scores as 6 isn’t even talked about.. and yet it is this thing that people also mostly review for a 5.. that everyone says… yeah it did enough, it’s a bad movie but I was entertained and that is fine for once.That is what makes this movie so special. It has cute costume design. ..even though that also feels a bit over designed..but I will remember a few of these characters.. from a 5 out of 10 movie. It really has that Harry Potter charm (written by Daniel Radcliffe that series is)   infused in its DNA. Even though it sucks… ..in every way … it’s fun.. not because of the fact that is sucks but despite of the fact.. and that makes this movie special to me. I should rate this one Okiwi but because it is that.. it’s so special it even gets an upgrade.