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Arnold Schwarzenneger has only been in one horror movie before and that’s when he rumbled with Satan (Who else?) in END OF DAYS (1999). Hence when I heard that he was going to be in a Zombie movie, the image of him mowing down a slew of lumbering undead with a rail gun while chewing on a lit cigar popped up in my noggin. But the more I discovered about MAGGIE (watch it here), the more I realized that it was not going to be THAT KIND of Zombie Arnie movie; and now that I have seen the film; I can assure you, it really isn’t THAT KIND of Zombie Arnie movie.
The best way I could describe Henry Hobson’s feature length directorial debut MAGGIE would be: a character and performance driven mood piece. So get those “Commando with ghouls” expectations out of here! Not gonna happen! MAGGIE was a bit of a tough watch (specially if you have your own shit going on, which I did) due to it being heartbreaking from beginning to end. Everything about it was hopeless and downbeat. There was Maggie’s (Breslin) personal journey; struggling with retaining her humanity as long as she could (that scene with her equally infected boyfriend had the man-tears stream down) until the undead inevitable. Then there was the father’s (Schwarzenneger) path; the dude is doing what he can to be there for his daughter, protect her while trying to enjoy their last days together and process his own individual loss to come. And finally you had the tale of both of these characters together; trying to make the best of a dire situation, looking to the past for good memories because the present has a little to offer and there’s no future at all... yeah... damn... you ready to hit the Whiskey bottle and play Russian Roulette yet? I KNOW I AM!
The hurt came down even harder due to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin f-ing owning it as the father and daughter duo. This was Arnold like I had never seen him before; internalized, humble and more vulnerable than the norm. As we all know Arnold is a big dude physically, and his size contrasted beautifully with how fragile his character came across. Nothing breaks a real man like his child being at risk (or worse...dying) and Arnold nailed that vibe 100% and then some! For all the people complaining about Arnie playing an all American farmer with a thick Austrian accent, this is what I have to say: if you're able to upend disbelief about a girl turning into a Zombie, I'm not sure WHY a farmer with a foreign accent in the US of A would be such a stretch. I guess some people never heard of immigration….sigh…On her end, Abigail Breslin was simply astounding; she hit the varied emotional notes she had to convey with gusto and put out an affable, complex and moving show. She wasn’t Oscar nominated in 2007 (for Little Miss Sunshine) for nothing! It should be noted that both actors were well supported by Joely Richardson as the wife/stepmother who took what could have been a black and white role and gave it layers. Well done baby girl!
Visually, Henry Hobson’s style (and the haunting cinematography that backed it up) didn’t help chipper up the mood that’s for damn sure! The imagery on hand echoed the somber soul of the film; gray, sadness stricken yet morbidly beautiful. I found the directing to be refreshingly old school i.e. lots of long, wide and static shots and the framing axed on the poetic. This was a mucho picturesque film and the visuals had quite the impact on me. Topple on top of that a stirring and emotionally charged score by David Wingo (must get that soundtrack, would be great to write something morose to it) and you get an affecting and poignant horror drama; one that I actually wanna see again with my expectations out of the way. Any drawbacks? Well I did feel that there could have been more drastic turns/bumps in the storyline. Looking back this was a very quiet film, maybe too quiet for its own good. Finally, there was something about the “geography” of the last scene that didn’t work for me. Hard to talk about it without spoiling anything so I’ll just say this; although they tried to hide "it" by not giving us a wide shot of the surroundings, I still picked it up, hence that lessened the oomph of the final sequence for me a tad.
On the whole though MAGGIE was not what I was expecting and I was okay with that. Forget your Arnie guns down Zombies like Duke Nukem meets Dawn of the Dead expectations and instead go in knowing you’ll get a bleak drama about loss with Ahnuld underplaying it to a T and letting his epic beard gap the rest. I love you Maggie! Great flick!