One could make the argument that the cinema landscape has been saturated with zombie movies. There have been numerous interpretations of zombie horror. We have had zombie comedies. We’ve even had a weird zombie romance flick. Yet with so many variations of zombie movies, I’ve seen nothing quite like “Maggie”. Writer John Scott 3 pens a story that pulls the focus off of the normal zombie movie machinations and tropes. Instead he shoots for a more personal approach by spotlighting intimacies rarely considered in these types of films.
“Maggie” is a movie full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest comes in the lead performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a dramatic departure from anything he has done before, Arnie plays a father whose daughter has been bitten and infected with a deadly, incurable virus. The majority of the story focuses on their time together between the onset of the virus and what looks like the inevitable outcome. Schwarzenegger dials it back and shows an understated side to his acting that is absolutely essential to his character, Wade Vogel. His bearded face is worn and weathered and he is clearly a man tormented by his new reality.
Abigail Breslin plays his daughter Maggie. We first meet her making a phone call to her father telling him not to come looking for her. Soon after she is caught in town past the city curfew and it is revealed she has been bitten and infected by the fatal disease that has ravaged most of the world’s population. Wade is allowed to take Maggie home for her final days until the virus reaches a point where she must be sent to what is called Quarantine to be “processed”. Joely Richardson is very good as Maggie’s caring but nervous stepmother. She struggles to balance her support for Wade with her fears of Maggie’s condition.
In a way “Maggie” could be called a family tragedy. It just happens to take place during a zombie apocalypse. But zombies are never the focal point. Their threat lingers in the background occasionally showing itself. Director Henry Hobson keeps his film from becoming a ‘zombie movie’. He effectively uses that backdrop to energize the movie’s sad and hopeless setting, but whenever the film is potentially moving into conventional directions his restraint becomes obvious and he pulls us back to the primary focal point.
As a whole, Hobson’s direction is yet another of the film’s surprises. It’s always nice to see a first time director throw aside a number of conventions and add a degree of style. This is clearly seen in the great job he does capturing mood and atmosphere. It’s well realized through Hobson’s camera, by his strategic use of David Wingo’s score, and through the telling expressions of his cast. Without the right tone the story would have fallen flat. I also like the deliberate pace of the story, something that Hobson and Scott clearly aim for. I can see where some may find it slow and even languid, but I never felt that at all. I fell right into the pacing and the story itself.
“Maggie” intrigued me from its first trailer, but the actual movie was even more enjoyable than I expected. It is such an interesting mix of subtle horror and emotional family drama. And even when it leans a little heavy on the melodrama, it feels surprisingly earned and acceptable. There is also an earnest sweetness at the heart of “Maggie”. The central father/daughter relationship is what drives the film and provides its satisfying emotional core. And that relationship is strengthened more by two very good performances particularly Schwarzenegger who shows us a side that I hope to see again.