2015, PG-13, 95 mins.
2015, PG-13, 95 mins.
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade / Abigail Breslin as Maggie / Joely Richardson as Caroline / Laura Cayouette as Linda / J.D. Evermore as Holt
Directed by Henry Hobson / Written by John Scott
When one hears the words “zombie thriller” and the name “Arnold Schwarzenegger” in the same breath, certain images come to mind. It’s inescapable.
Part of the
subtle genius, though, of Henry Hobson’s MAGGIE is how it so wonderfully
and innovatively subverts not only our own expectations of the zombie
genre (one that has literally been done to death over the years and seems desperate for some innovation), but also what we’ve come to expect
performance-wise out of the iconic Austrian actor. Rather compellingly, Au-nald does not play a limitlessly
lethal and indestructible action hero, but rather a world weary and broken
down rural father figure. That,
and MAGGIE is not an apocalyptic film that throws mindless gore at the
screen. Instead, Hobson
focuses more intuitively on the way that such an end-of-days scenario has
devastating effects on a family unit…and people in general.
rather imposing and still beefy shadow, of course, looms large over this
low budget independent film, but what I appreciate so much about his
participation here – and in one of the more underrated films of last
year in SABOTAGE – is how the star is
beginning to embrace his encroaching senior citizenship and play more
grounded and credible characters that harness his advancing years.
Schwarzenegger has always been respected more as a big screen movie
star than an accomplished actor, which is a fare assertion (his thespian
range is fairly limited). Yet,
the manner that he fully inhabits his quiet spoken and anxiety-riddled
character here is kind of a game-changing turn for him as an actor.
He has never delivered a performance as understatedly textured and
nuanced as he has here.
ample props too for managing to find a way to make a zombie survival film
that doesn’t borrow heavily from the litany of clichés and conventions
from the genre. MAGGIE
immerses viewers in its nightmarish vision with relative tact, economy,
and restraint. That, and
he’s able to keenly focus on character dynamics first and foremost and
how these helpless people struggle to eek out an existence amidst all of
the apocalyptic doom that permeates their daily lives.
I’ve seen countless zombie films that have relished in sickening levels
of brain smashing violence and mayhem (many of those films I certainly
have liked), but MAGGIE is more about the disintegration of a family unit
set amidst it doomsday scenario and the life and death struggles of a
father to maintain it.
does not really explain the particulars of how the undead rose, which is
arguably not the point here. All we need to know is that society has been systematically
breaking down since the advent of the zombie virus, leaving people trying
to make the most of what semblance of civilized life they have left.
Midwesterner Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) has been hit personally and
very hard by the zombie affliction, ubiquitously known as the
“necroambulist virus”. His
daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been the most recent victim of a
zombie bite, leaving the unavoidability of her “turning” a foregone
conclusion. Most zombie films
have the victim turning relative quickly, but in MAGGIE it’s more like a
real virus that slowly and steadily ravages its ways though the body,
almost like a cancer. Maggie
does indeed have time left as a normal young woman, but her days are
basically numbered. Standard
medical protocol is for the infected to be quarantined, but Wade will have
nothing of it, and he promptly takes his daughter back home so that she
can spend her last few days with friends and family.
Maggie seems to
take the news as well as anyone could under the horrendous circumstances.
The process by which she becomes a zombie begins to show
physical signs and then emotional and mental ones (her bite wounds begin
to spread across the rest of her body, her pupils start turning an
unhealthy and ghostly hue, and her appetite for normal food begins to
decline. If anything, Wade
and his wife (and solid Joley Richardson) are arguably the most traumatized by the
thought of losing their daughter to the virus, but Wade steadfastedly
tries to maintain a semblance of hope in an utterly futile and hopeless
situation. When Maggie begins
to seriously deteriorate Wade takes her to the town doctor, but he gives
him the terrible news that her condition is progressing and unstoppable.
This leaves Wade contemplating the unthinkable of what he must do
when his daughter is truly “gone.”
unimpeachably good at mood and atmosphere. Hobson
– working with limited financial resources – gives us hints of the
larger world of the apocalypse through shots of environmental decay (crops
are routinely seen burning in the background in hopes of helping to quell
the virus spread); a military presence populating the city streets; and
showing ordinary people just looking fatigued and stressed.
All of these little visual cues work wonders for establishing the
dark and dreary milieu of this film.
Again, Hobson’s motives here are not about lingering on what’s
happening in the background of scenes, but rather on the more insular
domestic crisis of Wade’s family life on the home front.
In a way, MAGGIE uses the zombie apocalypse as a framing device to
show how one man’s compassion and love of his daughter overcomes all
normal logic in dealing with her condition.
Wade is a figure to be admired for his commitment and compassion
for his child, but ultimately MAGGIE becomes tearfully tragic in the sense
that he will never really be able to save her.
Since the film is
more of a dramatic tone poem than a horror thriller, Hobson is required to let his
actor do most of the heavy lifting. Breslin
has the difficult performance task of showing Maggie as a resilient and
strong willed teenager that tries to keep her sanity together when
everyone around her knows she’s a dead woman, so to speak.
MAGGIE becomes almost gut-wrenchingly sad in the sense that Maggie
will inevitably never know the pleasures of adulthood, marriage, having
children, and living a full life. Breslin
brings a warmth and authenticity to her part that’s both thankless and
most welcoming. When her mind
and body begin to truly breakdown MAGGIE becomes devastatingly hard to
watch, which is a testament to Breslin’s poignant performance
then…yes…there’s Schwarzenegger himself, who – much like
Hobson’s handling of the underling material here – manages to dial
back his normal larger-than-life performance tendencies and inhabit a
defeated man that suffers from considerable agony and despair.
When one looks at the body of the actor’s more well known and
established films – which are such a part of our collective memories and deeper
pop culture – it’s almost unthinkable to see the grey haired,
unshaven, and grizzled Schwarzenegger here as a man that knows he has lost
the proverbial fight right from the opening moment of the film. When Wade pitifully deals with – in one depressing moment
– how he was forced to kill an infected 4-year-old girl that he used to
babysit, MAGGIE attains a level of sobering dramatic weight that frankly
has dogged most of Schwarzenegger’s past films and roles.
It’s ultimately refreshing to see him strip himself bare of the
types of bombastic super hero characters of old and simply play a normal
man that can’t use his brawn and brute force to win in the end.
MAGGIE does have some decided rough edges. I would have appreciated it being a bit longer (at just a tad over 90 minutes it sometimes has the feel of a film that left some subplots on the cutting room floor). Nitpicking aside, Hobson’s film is an uncharacteristically moving zombie survival film in how it deals with the gruesome bleakness of its apocalypse on a much more personal and relatable manner. MAGGIE is intriguingly spare and low key, everything that most other similar genre efforts are not. And Breslin and Schwarzenegger create one of the most unexpectedly effective performances tandems of our young year. If MAGGIE is a hint of things to come for Schwarzenegger’s career as he approaches his twilight years…then it’s a resoundingly strong step in the right direction.