If zombie movies had been as ubiquitous in the 1980s and ‘90s as they are today, Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger would have been right in the middle of the zombocalypse, machine-gunning his way through the undead horde and deadpanning “They won’t be back!” before leaping through a window to wrestle with a helicopter. But times have changed and it might appear (his forthcoming return to the Terminator franchise notwithstanding) that Arnie, now a spritely and still-formidable sixty-seven years old, is coming to terms with the ageing process and beginning to make films more befitting a man of his advancing years. But there’s still that little matter of the zombie movie…
Maggie is magnificent - but in ways we might never have expected from a film toplined by the former Governor of California. This is a quiet, contemplative, deeply unshowy movie which is as much - if not more - about mortality and coming to terms with life and inevitable death - as it is about nasty growling monsters. There’s been an outbreak of a “necromabulist” virus which turns the infected into drooling flesh-eaters. The outbreak is under control but it’s been a long, hard battle and mankind has taken a real hit. Normality is slowly being restored and farmer Wade Vogel (Arnie) has spent two weeks searching through the chaos to find his missing daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin). She’s been bitten and has begun the slow transformation process. But instead of allowing her to be shunted off into a quarantine centre where the infected are apparently humanely disposed of, Wade takes Maggie home so she can spend her last few weeks with her family. Wade and his wife (Maggie’s stepmother) Caroline (Joely Richardson) try to maintain a veneer of normality as Maggie slowly falls apart, both physically and psychologically…
Maggie is a glowering, brooding movie, an art house ‘zombie’ film largely drained of colour and with a deep background soundtrack of distant rumbling thunder, underscoring its dour, downbeat storyline and the dreadful inevitability of its climax. Performances are dialled right back (handily for Arnie); Abigail Breslin (no stranger to the undead courtesy of Zombieland back in 2009) is superb as Maggie, the Daddy’s Girl at once resigned to and yet terrified of her fate. Her relationships with her family and friends have become awkward and fumbling and her attempts to find her temporary place in a changed world are frustrated by the horror of her situation; at one point Maggie wakes in the night to find maggots squirming in the rotting flesh of her decomposing arm. She sees her own potential future too when her once would-be boyfriend Trent, also suffering from the virus, is dragged screaming from his home by the Police when his own condition reaches the point of no return. Arnie’s on surprisingly good form too. There are no Oscars waiting in the wings, obviously, but for once the paucity of dialogue serves him well. He deftly portrays the torment of a man who just wants to do his best for his daughter and who can’t change the fate that lays in store for her however hard he tries or however much he chooses to ignore it. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance and demonstrates what Arnie might have been capable of if he hadn’t embraced his action man persona so completely back in his glory years.
Maggie is a tough, difficult film to watch because of the horrible inevitability of what we know is going to happen. Viewers recently touched by bereavement and the sense of hopelessness and despair it can engender - especially as it approaches - may find it all too much to bear. But those who persevere will be richly rewarded by perhaps the bleakest ‘genre’ movie since The Mist, a film which, however hard it might be to experience and endure, is one which they’re not likely to forget in a hurry. Quite possibly a little masterpiece.
INFO: MAGGIE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: HENRY HOBSON / SCREENPLAY: JOHN SCOTT 3 / STARRING: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ABIGAIL BRESLIN, JOELY RICHARDSON / RELEASE DATE: JULY 17TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10