MAGGIE (2015) review
written by: John Scott 3
produced by: Colin Bates, Joey Tufaro, Matthew Baer, Trevor Kauffman & Arnold Schwarzenegger
directed by: Henry Hobson
rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material including bloody images, and some language)
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: May 8, 2015 (limited/Amazon/iTunes/On Demand)
Of the post-Governator movies Arnold Schwarzenegger has starred in, “Maggie” is his most out-of-character albeit realistic yet. The star utters no one-liners, there are no comical outbursts and no joyous obliteration of bad guys. There’s a trademark furrowed brow with a matching steely glare though, but this dramatic role finds a somber and frightened Ah-nuld, unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him. You’ll go in thinking this is the movie where “Arnold Schwarzenegger has a Zombie Daughter”, but you may be surprised with the emotions and overall tone director Henry Hobson offers here in his directorial debut.
In the grey countryside outside a ravaged Kansas City, farmer Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) welcomes back his teenage daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), with open arms. The problem is she’s been infected with the Necroambulist Virus, an outbreak that has crippled society, destroying crops and transforming people into zombies. While Carolyn (Joely Richardson), Wade’s wife and Maggie’s stepmom is apprehensive, Wade is determined to wait out his daughter’s “turn”, remaining by her side despite the inevitable danger to himself. As Maggie struggles with her inevitable fate, her father tries to offer her comfort, both knowing full well what must be done very soon.
If this were made thirty years ago, we’d see Schwarzenegger taking on an entire zombie apocalypse by himself and winning. It’d be released by Cannon in 1983 and my preteen self would see it over and over again. Sexagenarian Schwarzenegger though, after decades of delivering what we expect from his action star persona, brings an intriguing curiosity to such a role. It’s certainly a role that finds him at his most helpless and vulnerable, which is probably what attracted the actor to the project. At 67, seeing Schwarzenegger play a defeated character, who sheds a tear for his daughter’s predicament, is definitely a draw. It may not be his best performance ever – we know he has his limits and he’s not a classically trained actor – but it’s the furthest from what the world has come to know him as.
Despite the film’s title, the screenplay by first-timer John Scott 3 focuses on Maggie’s father and how he has to deal with her deterioration. As days pass, there are physical signs, like ashen skin, glossy eyes and heightened sense of smell, that indicate Wade is losing his little girl. The story does give us Maggie’s perspective as well though. It’s actually a challenging role to write/portray, because it could easily wind up as a sullen/depressed teen – and, well, we’ve seen that before. Yet, Breslin (who’s been around zombies before in “Zombieland”), plays Maggie as a scared young woman who is trying to grasp onto normalcy, like any teen going through a life-changing crisis.
In the middle of the film, we see Maggie hanging out with some friends her age at a reservoir (where kids hang in Kansas), before her zombification process really starts to show. We get the feeling this will likely be the last time she’ll ever see them and there’s an unspoken admittance of this from her friends. I suppose something like this could be equated to knowing someone who is terminally ill. The awkwardness and uncertainty are palpable in this scene and also needed to give Maggie needed characterization. We also see her interact with her limbo status boyfriend, Trent (Bryce Romero), who’s showing signs of turning zombie more than she is. (No, he didn’t infect her. We see how that happened in her own startling memories).
The choice to give these teens screen-time is a smart one, giving the doomed title character some final moments to just be a kid. It juxtaposes nicely with the awkward communication between Wade and Maggie, as the father is leaning closer to taking matters into his own hands, rather than send his daughter into quarantine where she’ll spend her last days in a room with other flesh-eaters. Any loving parent would entertain the same endgame.
Although there are some nicely written moments, ultimately the screenplay doesn’t give us a chance to know more about this iteration of the zombie subgenre. “Maggie” is obviously focusing on a few people, in a world where doctors provide an exit cocktail to the infected and local police seek to monitor who far along certain victims are progressing, but the characterizations are stuck (understandably) in a dire and mournful mode. It’s not as if levity is any answer, but the issues comes across as repetitive at times. It might’ve helped to see Schwarzenegger and Breslin’s characters get a little more hysterical as the movie progresses, but instead there’s a solemn tone that remains throughout. As a father, I know I’d be freaking out a lot more than what I saw in “Maggie”.
First-time director Henry Hobson is no stranger to the world of the undead, having designed title sequences for the likes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Naughty Dog’s survival horror game “The Last of Us”. He uses a palette of gray tones and drained hues throughout the film and barely shows any sun. In fact, building thunder composes most of the film’s soundtrack, no offense to the fine score by David Wingo (“Take Shelter” and “Mud”). “Maggie” provided a handful of complications for Hobson, what with two DPs bailing and difficulties financing what would eventually end of being a $6 million budget (probably the lowest in Schwarzenegger’s filmography), and it finds me curious what projects Hobson will take on next.
Oddly, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions seem to be at a bit of a loss in finding the best way to market the film. I haven’t come across any TV ads for the film, nor have I seen any trailers in theaters. The film earned buzz last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival and last month at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, but it seems like word-of-mouth and internet coverage are its only friends.
Considering the size of the film and knowing next month we’ll see a “Terminator” reboot with Schwarzenegger, this is certainly a welcome viewing experience. Ultimately, “Maggie” is primarily for fans of the genre and Schwarzenegger completists. I came to the film with a curiosity for both. Anyone drawn to the film only knowing it as that “Schwarzenegger zombie flick”, will certainly get more out they expect out of it.