Director: Henry Hobson
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Douglas M. Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Rachel Whitman Groves, Jodie Moore, Bryce Romero
MPAA Rating: (for disturbing thematic material including bloody images, and some language)
Running Time: 1:35
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 7, 2015
At the start of Maggie, the zombie epidemic is approaching its end. The cities are mostly safe, thanks to curfews and teams of soldiers hunting down anyone infected with the so-called "necroambulist virus." Even though people have learned almost everything about the disease, there is no cure, so anyone who has been infected but has yet to experience "the turn" is carefully watched by medical professionals. The infected are even allowed to stay with family if the virus hasn't progressed too far. Once it has, the infected individual is forced into quarantine, where he or she is eventually administered a cocktail of lethal drugs. There are rumors that life will return to normal soon, although only the most optimistic believe that the new normal will be anything like the old one.
There are no hordes of the undead tearing off limbs and chomping on flesh to be found here. Neither are there ingenious ways of killing zombies to be seen. The movie forgoes horror movie clichés for the most part, too, save for when it tweaks them to offer a moral dilemma or a tender moment as the payoff. Yes, there is a devastated city and a long stretch of desolate highway filled with abandoned cars, but most of the story takes place in the countryside, on a small farm where almost always present storm clouds and billowing pillars of smoke from burning crops merge in the continual dusk of the sky.
This is a gentler, more intimate, and more melancholy movie about zombies than we usually get. Its central question is not how to stop the flood of the undead but whether or not there can be any compassion in a world in which zombies exist. If there is, does it look like compassion of the sort we know, or has it, like the world, been irrevocably changed? These are not concerns that we expect from our zombie movies.
Director Henry Hobson (his debut) and screenwriter John Scott 3 (his first screenplay) ease us into this unusual approach by giving us what we expect (the empty streets, the expository news reports, a single attack by a member of the undead, etc.) before settling into scenes and the tone of a domestic drama about a dying girl, which are occasionally interrupted by reminders that she's "dying" of becoming a zombie. The movie even gives us a Hollywood action star in one of the lead roles, teasing us with a certain expectation before establishing his character as an ordinary father trying to come to terms with the approaching death of his beloved daughter.
The movie is, then, a curiosity, but it is also banking the success of a lot of what it sets out to do on the fact that we are not anticipating its moves. Basically, it feels as if Hobson and Scott are hoping that the unexpectedness of the whole affair will be enough.
The story revolves around Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin), who has been bitten by a zombie while was living in a city. After two weeks of searching, Wade finds his daughter in a clinic. A doctor allows Wade to bring Maggie back to his farm, reminding Wade that she will eventually turn and have to be quarantined.
His other two children, whom he had with his new wife Caroline (Joely Richardson) leave to stay with a relative, leaving only Wade, Maggie, and her wary stepmother (Her mother died of a disease many years ago) in the farmhouse. Maggie's condition progresses, but she's given a stay from quarantine by Vern (Jodie Moore), a doctor and family friend. He warns Wade that the compassionate thing to do might be to put a quick end to Maggie's suffering when the time comes.
There's little in the way of characterization, although the actors here are surprisingly strong despite those limitations. Schwarzenegger is more than capable—at times, even affecting—in a role that superficially appears to be a case of stunt casting, and Breslin plays impending doom with quiet reserve—until, of course, the zombie symptoms call for a drastic response. Their relationship is tender, and it lends a lot of heart to material that relies primarily on reserved moments.
A notable sequence features Maggie trying to have an ordinary night out with friends. It becomes a rumination on regret over lost chances with a boy and a discussion of how to save a family the pain of sending their child to die alone in a camp—not to mention saving themselves that experience. It's also intriguing how Hobson and Scott offer scenes that start as the setup for a familiar scare moment, only to turn them on their heads to iterate the feeling of the inescapable (Wade encounters a couple of neighbors who have turned, and Maggie watches the consequences from her window, witnessing a scene that will be the future for her and could be the outcome for her father).
The movie is primarily a mood piece, dependent on the atmosphere of the location (shot with murky serenity by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin) and the tormented faces of its characters. This tactic is effective to a degree, but Maggie doesn't get past its surface level. It's a clever experiment in expectation-twisting, but that's as far as the movie is willing to take itself.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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