Directed by: Henry Hobson
Premise: In the midst of a zombie outbreak, a father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds his teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) has been infected. Retreating to the family farm, he stays at her side while the infection transforms her into the living dead.
What Works: The zombie film has been around for over four decades and in that time two major traditions have emerged. The first is the legacy of George A. Romero’s Living Dead series. That series established the rules of the zombie film and the basic boiler plate for the zombie invasion story. The other tradition within the zombie film is best exemplified by Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil series. Based on first person shooter video games, these kinds of zombie movies are as much action pictures as they are horror films and they are predicated on blood and guts thrills. Maggie takes the zombie movie in a very different direction. Rather than the broad scope and fast paced style of a lot of zombie apocalypses, Maggie is intimately scaled and it has a mournful and cerebral style. The filmmakers smartly flip a lot of zombie conventions on their heads. Most other movies in this genre are about survivors shooting and hacking their way through hordes of living dead. In Maggie a father does what he can to avoid violence and cares for his daughter while a disease ravages her body. Another of the trends of the zombie genre has been an acceleration in the way victims turn into the living dead. In 1968’s Night of the Living Dead the process takes hours but by 2013’s World War Z the transformation takes just seconds. Maggie goes against the tide; here the process takes weeks and in that time the infected and the uninfected mingle with the knowledge that at some point they will be a threat to each other. The extended infection time turns Maggie into a metaphor of a pandemic and the way we treat people who are infected with a dangerous disease. Maggie is shot with a washed out color palate that suggests mourning and decay and the filmmakers use the zombie film as a framework to tell a story of a father and a daughter coping with a terminal illness. Abigail Breslin plays the daughter and she is quite good in the part, playing the role not as a zombie but as a young woman coping with a medical condition. The surprise of the movie comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger as her father. This is the best performance of Schwarzenegger’s career and he plays it with a subtle grief that we’ve rarely seen from him.
What Doesn’t: Maggie is not the movie that fans of the zombie genre will expect. Narratively it breaks from the invasion structure that has defined the genre since Night of the Living Dead and stylistically it does not contain the blood and guts of Lucio Fulci and Paul W.S. Anderson’s films. This movie is also an aberration in the filmography of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gone are the one liners and gunplay that defined the actor’s heyday. Those qualities are actually to the movie’s credit but it is easy to imagine that Maggie will alienate the fan base who flocked to Resident Evil and True Lies. That said, Maggie does have its shortcomings. In the effort to be thoughtful and brooding the filmmakers sacrifice dramatic tension. There is a terrific atmosphere of dread and decay in the style of the movie but the film is dramatically flat. The story has a ticking clock worked into it—we know what the daughter will become—but the danger that she presents to her family isn’t played up enough. Where the movie is really unsatisfactory is in its ending. Maggie is predicated on the understanding that the father will reach a point when he will have to kill or be killed. That premise is never really followed to its conclusion, therefore subverting the very reason that the movie exists.
Bottom Line: Maggie is a moderate success at what it is attempting to do. The filmmakers take the zombie genre in a bold new direction but the movie itself does not fully make good on those possibilities. At the very least it is unlike any zombie film seen before and it has a surprisingly affecting performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Episode: #542 (May 17, 2015)