– Summary –
Director : Henry Hobson
Year Of Release : 2015
Principal Cast : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers, Carsen Flowers, JD Evermore, Raeden Greer.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: A teenage girl in the Midwest becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.
What we think : Absorbing, methodical zombie-drama film has Schwarzenegger in fine “acting” form, and Abigail Breslin as youthfully distraught daughter, in this compelling, albeit uneven, work of genre fiction. While it doesn’t hit many high notes, and has weird post-modern visual style (works, yes, but always, no), Maggie is definitely worth a look.
The hardest choices….
In his post-Governor film career, Austrian born Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a rather tepid response from audiences. Although his Expendables movies have gradually worn out their welcome with franchise fans, and The Last Stand and Escape Plan were little more than blips on a rather unconvincing radar (hey, I loved those films, but I’m in the minority there), it’s his “serious” films which have garnered the one-time action superstar the most positive praise, in spite of commercial iniquity. David Ayers’ Sabotage, while a brave effort to give Arnie a more human, relatable role, nevertheless didn’t strike the chord with audiences the big guy’s pre-Governator career had enjoyed. Maggie treads similar ground in a sense, in that it gives Arnie a chance to stretch his acting chops, instead of the action ones. Teamed with Abigail Breslin, who is no slouch when it comes to thespianizing, Arnie plays against type as a desperate father trying to save his daughter during a… well, a zombie apocalypse.
In the American Midwest, Wade Cooper (Schwarzenegger) removes his teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) from her life in the city, as a deadly viral outbreak consumes the country, turning the infected into zombies. Although refusing to give up hope for his infected daughter’s survival, Wade takes her to his sister’s (Joely Richardson) farm, where he protects her against those who would seek to kill her for their own safety.
It’s fair to say the zombie genre has, by and large, been tapped dry by pop-culture demands in recent years. Films such as Zack Snyder’s Dawn of The Dead, the Resident Evil franchise, 28 Days Later, and recent entries including World War Z, Wyrmwood and Zombieland (to name barely a few), coupled with television success in The Walking Dead (and its spin-off series, no less) have ensured the genre remains amongst the forefront of referential films denoting the monsters as the scariest of all. With both “slow zombies” and “fast zombies” entering into the popular lexicon, it’s perhaps becomes nearly a shorthand of its own demise in that the genre has suffered almost saturation effect within the mainstream. Maggie, in many ways, attempts to not only ride the coat-tails of that genre explosion, but also deviate from what’s known about it.
Maggie is less a film about zombieism, and more about the breakdown of the family unit in a crisis that threatens the entire world. Restrained in style, moody and atmospheric at every turn, and featuring solid direction from Henry Hobson and an acutely human performance from a brooding Schwarzenegger, Maggie aches with melancholy fear, a dramatic left-hook that works even in spite of the conventional wisdom of the genre its operating in. Cleverly, Maggie focuses on the relationship between Wade and Maggie, spending a great amount of energy forging the bond between the two that will see them excoriated by fear, terror and desperation as the zombie virus takes hold of the girl, an unstoppable endgame that brings out the best in Arnie’s emotive ability.
Written by John Scott III, Maggie’s inner strength is forged in the fire of the family unit. The film’s narrative aches with impending loss, approximating a death sentence that’s entirely unable to be commuted, and it’s this feature of the story that works the strongest when allowed to play out in the early sequences. While Breslin and Schwarzenegger hold the film with solid performances, Joely Richardson pops up as Wade’s sister, Caroline, her limited screentime personifying the analogous disenfranchisement towards the infected that runs rampant through the movie. Consider the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, and you’ll see in Richardson’s character the same wide-eyed fear at the mention of the “infected”, such is its potency within us. While it takes its time getting to where it wants to go, Maggie is nothing if not compelling drama of the human kind, a monochrome one-act play that works due largely to the cast’s commitment to the premise.
The very notion of zombies fills us with dread because it’s a parallel to any number of potent viruses which may end up wiping humanity out. Our fear of disease, an incurable disease robbing us of our humanity, our sense of worth, our very soul, is one which inhabits the core of our being, and as such zombieism feels all too keenly like it could be the closest thing we have to a relatable human apocalypse. Maggie’s mournful, almost sorrowful tone is embellished by the interactions of Wade with those who fear the infected, as the end approaches and the inevitable occurs.
Schwarzenegger’s Wade is a man of solid principle, a man whose devotion to Maggie is unshakeable, even though she’s slowly turning into a zombie. Arnie plays him with a thoroughly restrained style, inwardly projecting his fears and his worries, etched across his time-worn face, and while the character tends to feel a tad implacable, his paternal warmth and fatherly devotion is a nuanced, convincing essay of wrenching loss by the big guy. Breslin, as Maggie, is good too, although her trajectory as a character doesn’t quite give the actress anything compelling to go on. She’s wide-eyed and slipping into death, as the virus takes hold and her body starts to waste and decay.
Critics of the film would rightly point to the film’s apparent focus on style over substance, as it would seem that the film’s visual tapestry of husky sepia and velvet shadows is overriding the work on character and story. Indeed, Maggie is a visually striking film (Hobson is better known as art designer, and credit designer, on films such as The Lone Ranger and Snow White & The Huntsman) and if there is any real issue I had with it, it’s that it does tend to drift into a malaise of beautifully crafted, yet empty frames of tone. Wistful music cues from composer David Wingo enhance an already overburdened story with extra “ache”, and at times sinks the narrative with drudgery. But at its heart, Maggie remains firmly compelling whenever Schwarzenegger and Breslin are on the screen.
In an atypical approach for the modern zombie film, the transition between infection and full-blown zombieism is played out slowly, rather than either instantly or within a few hours, as is the norm in approaches most directors have taken. This gradual, slow viral infection allows time for the infected to grieve their impending doom, and for those around them to mourn for it as well. If anything, this slow knife to the gut of humanity is the thing I found most powerful amongst all of Maggie’s subtexts and quirks. Turning isn’t fast here, there’s time to know what’s happening before it does, and that’s the most cruel blow of all.
I enjoyed Maggie for what it achieves, and for what it attempts to achieve. I’m glad Arnie has taken the approach to branch out in his choice of roles – dude’s nearly 70, so playing wink-wink action heroics is a bit of a stretch for him now, even with digital assistance – and Maggie’s structure and simple, elegiac tone allow him room to stretch himself as an actor first, hero second. Much like Clint Eastwood’s more nuanced roles these days, Arnie doesn’t seem to be afraid to fail at being “serious”, and as an audience member I’m prepared to go with him on this new tangent in his career. Maggie is meandering, but strongly pointed in its moral questioning; it’s really rather good, in spite of Arnie’s rugged face trying to emote over John Scott’s dialogue.
© 2015, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.