Directed by: Henry Hobson.
Written by: John Scott 3.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Wade), Abigail Breslin (Maggie), Joely Richardson (Caroline), Laura Cayouette (Linda), Amy Brassette (Lauretta), Denise Williamson (Barbara), J.D. Evermore (Holt), Raeden Greer (Allie), Aiden Flowers (Bobby), Taylor Murphy (Candace).
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a better actor that he gets credit for. Sure, he may not have the greatest range in the world – but in his wheelhouse there are few actors in movie history better at what he does than him. There is also a little bit of range in his performances, which are trickier than many think. Playing Conan the Barbarian or The Terminator may seem easy – but playing roles like that have led to awful performances from other actors. Arnold has always been charming and likable – he looks like He-Man, but he’s still relatable and funny. He came along at the perfect moment for an actor like him to become an action star – and I’ve always preferred him to the like of Stallone and others. He has made (more) than his fair share of crap, but rarely do I think Arnold is the problem in one of his movies.
His latest, Maggie, probably seems like a little bit of a stunt – both for Arnold and the movie itself. This isn’t a big budgeted action movie – but a small, character driven movie. Yes, it’s a zombie movie, but like many zombie movies its more interested in using as zombies as a metaphor for something else rather than being full of straight up zombie killing action. The whole movie hinges on whether or not Arnold, who we have seen killed literally thousands of people during his action career, can bring himself to kill one person – his daughter – before she puts not only his life, but the lives of many others, in jeopardy.
The movie takes place as the zombie outbreak is slowly being gotten under control. No, there is no cure – if you’re bit, you’re going to turn into a zombie, and you will die, but humans have done a good job at quarantining the victims, and protecting the uninfected. The twist here is simple – it takes 8 weeks or so for someone bitten to turn. In what is probably not the brightest decision in human history – but a humane one – they let the infected spend that time with their families. When the time is up, they are to be turned back over to quarantine – where they will handle it, they say humanely, but no one is buying it. Arnold plays Wade, a mid-Western farmer (and no, I don’t think they explain the accent), who teenage daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), ran off a while ago – and he’s finally able to track her down and bring her home. But yes, she has been bitten, and will turn. Wade sends his younger children, from his second wife Caroline (Joely Richardson) away while Maggie comes home to protect them. Caroline stays behind – she married Wade after he became a widower, and loves Caroline. The local doctor tells Wade that it would be kinder to end Maggie’s life instead of sending her to quarantine. The local Sheriff is sympathetic – his deputy, not so much – but has a town to look after. They will be keeping tabs on Maggie.
Schwarzenegger and Breslin are both excellent in the movie. Arnold spends his time walking around not unlike a zombie himself – he is sad and depressed about what is happening to Maggie. He’s her father – he promised his late wife he would look after her daughter, and now look what has happened. He knows, deep down, that when Maggie turns he will have to kill her. Turning her back over to the authorities would be cruel – not killing her would be dangerous, as he finds out the hard way when he encounters two zombies – a father and a small child – whose mother couldn’t turn them in, or kill them, herself. He just doesn’t think he can do it. Caroline tries to talk him into it – there’s even a scene where it looks like she may take matter into her own hands. For her part, Breslin may be even better. She’s essentially terminally ill – knows she is going to die, and has to make peace with it. She talk to some of her old friends – including one who is also infected. Breslin handles her role with sensitivity and compassion – she moved me more in her quiet performance than someone like Shailene Woodley (who was good, but in a bad movie) in The Fault in Our Stars. She doesn’t try to overtly elicit audience sympathy – which is why she gets it.
The problem with the movie isn’t these two performances then – it’s that the whole movie is kind of one note. Death hangs over every scene, and it’s so suffocating that all the life in the movie drains out of it. Director Henry Hobson and screenwriter John Scott 3 have a good idea at its core, but don’t really have anywhere to go with once it’s been established. They repeat themselves, the movie moves at a snail’s pace, and not a whole lot happens. We wait for the finale – where we know someone will have to make a decision – because the entire middle part of the movie seems to be just killing time until we can make it there. I kept waiting for at least one happy scene in the movie – but when it arrives (a visit to Maggie’s mother’s garden), it’s played with the same morose tone as the rest of the movie. It’s deadening.
Maggie is an interesting take on the zombie movie – which in many ways is overexposed right now with The Walking Dead. But at least it’s not another George A. Romero clone (which, let’s face, Walking Dead is, even if it’s a good one), nor is it another comedy, poking fun at the genre. It’s a film that legitimately tries to do something completely different with the genre. I admire it for that. I didn’t much like it though.