EIFF 2015 – Maggie
Henry Hobson’s Maggie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a father forced to make an impossible decision concerning his daughter after she is bitten by a zombie.
We’ve all seen zombie stories before and we’re all incredibly sick of them. I am only speaking for myself here but there are definitely a lot of them doing the rounds these days so what makes this one any different? It definitely needs to stand out in a sea of similar ideas in order to stick around in the minds of viewers.
To an extent this film accomplishes that in some really cool ways. For one thing the incubation period from being bitten to turning completely is somewhere in the region of 6 weeks which makes the whole thing analogous to a terminal illness that everyone needs to deal with. Everyone is aware of the eventuality so it becomes important to cherish the time that is left. It’s an angle I’ve not really seen explored before as most zombie fiction shortens the timeline between being bitten and turning in order to have the body of a loved one coming after you with only one goal in mind really quickly.
This alteration to the standard zombie rules becomes the focus of the film as Wade Vogel (Arnie) tracks down his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) after she ran away to learn that she has been bitten by a zombie. He has a friendly connection with a government doctor who falsifies reports so that he can take Maggie home and be with her through her deterioration but the end result of this is never glossed over.
It is constantly reinforced that there is absolutely no hope for a cure and the time that Wade has with Maggie has a finality to it. The options aren’t pretty either. He can either send her off to a quarantine facility where she will be euthanised by some vague chemical mixture, he can administer the mixture himself or he can shoot her to grant her a quick death. I found myself questioning the notion of the chemical mixture as it is mentioned that it is an incredibly painful way to go so I wonder why euthanising the zombie population doesn’t simply involve a bullet to the brain. The injection seems overkill especially if it prolongs a sense of suffering.
I was also more than a little confused by the world that these characters inhabit. It was unclear whether the world had actually ended or not as there seemed to be a functioning infrastructure for the most part. Parents even let their kids go out unsupervised without any apparent fear of attack. We see that zombies do lurk out there at various points as well so I think some work needed to go into establishing how society works in this -possibly- Post Apocalyptic world.
Anyone expecting scenes of Arnie tearing his way through legions of the undead will be disappointed her as it’s not that sort of film. The majority of the scenes involve Wade spending time with his daughter while he can and reconnecting with her in all the ways you might expect. Their relationship is handled well enough though I do have to question the casting of Arnie as a midwestern farmer with his deep Austrian accent. It’s one of those characters where the casting must have been to encourage people to see the film rather than him simply being the best man for the job.
That being said, this is probably one of the better turns by Arnie when it comes to acting. He certainly nails the quiet brooding and projects the image of a man who is incredibly world wearied. He wears a lot of it on his face and actually manages to convey a lot without speaking. Some of it comes close to actual emotion. Of course when he does speak it’s hit and miss. When he talks in soft tones with a more melancholy intonation to his voice it suits the situation and the character perfectly but the moments of fatherly bonding come across as a little forced and ridiculous. As entertaining as Arnie is he just doesn’t have the chops to be wholly convincing in a role like this.
An imposing physical presence seems necessary for this character and Arnie delivers that for sure but I can’t help but wonder how a more nuanced action actor might have fared. Imagine Liam Neeson or Mickey Rourke in this role and you might just get the whole package.
Abigail Breslin is excellent here as the titular character. She comes across as appropriately innocent and is always likeable enough to make the audience feel the tragedy associated with her inevitable death. She also does a great job of being unsettling when she gets closer to turning. I really liked how she portrayed the gradual decline and the terror associated with it. The chemistry between her and Arnie was pretty believable as well but she did most of the heavy lifting in that regard.
This definitely isn’t the best zombie movie out there but it does attempt to take a new approach by making the process of the infection after being bitten a gradual one. It becomes something of a metaphor for terminal illness as everyone knows the outcome and can prepare for it.
The world building was a little sloppy here as it was never adequately explained just how much trouble the world is in. I’m still not sure if it has actually ended or if there’s a bit of a zombie problem. Kids are even allowed to go out unsupervised with no apparent fear of being ambushed. I also have to question the idea of a long and painful death at the hands of some sort of injection makes no sense either since a bullet apparently does the trick much more quickly.
Arnie is a bit of a surprise here as he does a solid job of portraying the melancholy associated with the situation. He comes across as world wearied and wears a lot of that on his face. Some of his facial expressions conveyed actual emotion. The more levity filled scenes were a lot less convincing though.
Abigail Breslin does most of the heavy lifting capably. She projects the innocence required to feel sympathy for her character and it always feels that he fate is a tragedy. The decline from human to zombie is incredibly well handled by her as well and she has really good chemistry with Arnie.
If you’re expecting a one liner spewing musclebound Arnie tearing through waves of zombies then this isn’t the film for you but it’s good enough to remain engaging throughout and presents a fairly unique spin on the familiar zombification process.