‘Civil War’ is thought-provoking, but beware of ‘Abigail’ spoilers

‘Civil War’ is thought-provoking, but beware of ‘Abigail’ spoilers

‘Civil War’ is thought-provoking, but beware of ‘Abigail’ spoilers
Kirsten Dunst and Wagner Moura lead the cast of Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War.’

Jeff Mellinger Screen Shots(June 4, 2024) — Even though I saw previews for Alex Garland’s “Civil War,” I still did not know what to expect.

A film about a modern-day civil war in America could take many shapes. If the scope gets set too big, it will never be able to fit everything in. If the scope is too small, there will be too many questions. Garland opts for the latter, yet I wasn’t worried about needing any answers. The film is that good.

War journalists are some of our greatest unsung heroes. If victors told the stories of wars from centuries or millennia past, it is crucial that journalists tell both sides of today’s wars. They put themselves in harm’s way while armed with only cameras, microphones, and pen and paper.

Kirsten Dunst plays veteran war journalist Lee, determined to get from New York to Washington D.C. to interview the failing president (Nick Offerman). For unexplained reasons, California and Texas joined forces to secede and got several other states to form the Western Forces. They have the upper hand in the war, and Lee sees a possible end coming. Trusted companion Joel (Wagner Moura) is game, but it takes some convincing to bring around old-timer Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson). Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a plucky if naïve young journalist, rounds out the quartet.

The group must take a route through Pennsylvania and West Virginia to safely reach D.C. Along this path, we see snapshots of the current state of the union. The group comes across a couple of skirmishes in which they get up close and personal. It is old hat for Lee, Joel and Sammy, but Jessie has trouble dealing with the blood and death. Spaeny does a great job as the wide-eyed youngster.


Even in towns seemingly untouched by the war, where business hums along as it used to, gunmen on rooftops remind the group not to get too comfortable.

One of the most suspenseful scenes in a film this year comes when the quartet, along with a couple other journalists, encounter some survivalists. The always-sinister Jesse Plemons is perfect as he grills the group with questions while using a pleasant tone. They know that one wrong answer may mean death, especially considering the massive grave of bodies behind them.

“Civil War” is mostly just a bunch of vignettes in which our characters participate. Garland chose to tell the smaller side of a bigger story. While I wish it had a different ending, “Civil War” is unlike any other film you’ll see all year. Harrowing and possibly prophetic, it is a must see. A-

Spoilers under mind ‘Abigail’

Melissa Barrera and Alicia Weir join an ensemble cast in ‘Abigail.’

I like teaser previews. They typically run 30 seconds or less, but nine times out of ten, I can tell if I want to see the film or not. Full trailers provide a mixed bag. Running two to three minutes, they often reveal story arcs and sometimes crucial character information. I tend to avoid those for the specific reason that I like to know as little as possible about a film before I see it.

Sadly, the people behind “Abigail” seem determined for everyone to know about a massive mid-film twist by making it the centerpiece of the advertisement campaign. It ruined what could have been a better film.

Bay Area actor Angus Cloud completed filming his scenes for ‘Abigail’ shortly before his death last year.

If you have not seen the previews, suffice it to say that the whole movie revolves around getting to this point. Until then, we get stuck with a half-dozen sketchy criminals. Some of their chatter is funny; most of it is banal.

They have kidnapped a rich guy’s 12-year-old daughter and have to hold her for 24 hours before they get paid. Everything goes off without a hitch, until they find out her father is a well-known brutal crime boss. Maybe ask that question up front, guys.

Alisha Weir playing Abigail provides the highlight of the film. She is charming, witty and perfect for the role. The other actors play their characters well but do not have a lot to work with under the caricatures they are given.

The second half of the film certainly ramps up the action and gore. It remains mostly funny and somewhat suspenseful. You could do worse for a springtime horror film. C

Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.