PLOT: In the midst of a viral outbreak, a farmer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers his beloved daughter (Abigail Breslin) is infected. Now, he must keep her safe from quarantine even though he knows it’s only a matter of time before the daughter he once knew is replaced by a mindless creature who won’t recognize him.
REVIEW: When you put together Arnold Schwarzenegger and zombie movies, you probably wouldn’t think the result would be an art-house drama more in line with David Gordon Green than I AM LEGEND (which Arnold came close to starring in once upon a time) but sure enough, MAGGIE is a movie that clearly delights in subverting audience expectations. It was originally due to run as part of TIFF 2014 before being notoriously pulled at the eleventh hour by its distributor. I have no idea why they did this considering the undeniable quality of the film, as this no doubt would have played to critical acclaim (with fest director Cameron Bailey already having gone on record praising it).
Sure enough, MAGGIE is an elegiac, character-driven piece of sci-fi/horror. Think of the most depressing episode of The Walking Dead ever and you’ll have a notion of what they’re going for. Happily, first time director Harry Hobson and screenwriter John Scott 3 are almost entirely successful, making a new-wave kind of zombie movie that will likely tug at your heartstrings more than it will scare you – and that’s not a bad thing at all.
As in most seriously minded zombie fare, from 28 DAYS LATER, through THE WALKING DEAD, the z-word is never uttered once. Here, the “infected” typically maintain some semblance of their former selves, even though they’re almost entirely animalistic in their pursuit of humans as food. What’s MAGGIE’s big hook is that here the infection is agonizingly slow, taking weeks. Most infected people are sent to government death camps and euthanized, but thanks to Arnie’s friendship with a government doctor, he’s able to take his girl home to be cared for so that when the eventual end comes, she can die with her family.
Essentially, this is a two hander with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin truly being co-stars, with neither being more prominent than the other. Breslin’s always good and makes for a sympathetic heroine. She has a few really great scenes, such as a bit later on when she goes out for one last night out with her friends and discovers that her former boyfriend is now infected himself, leading to a tender moment that’s unexpectedly bittersweet.
As good as she is (and she’s great) the real surprise here is Schwarzenegger. This is easily the best performance he’s given since the nineties (although he was very solid in a few bits of COLLATERAL DAMAGE). Clearly, Schwarzenegger put his heart and soul into it, and being a father himself he’s extremely convincing as a conflicted father who can’t bring himself to give up on his little girl even though all hope is lost. His relationship with Breslin is extremely warm, and he’s remarkably convincing as a kind of mid-west farmer despite his still considerable frame and famous accent. It’s crazy how quickly you’ll buy into him playing this very atypical part.
Anyone hoping to see Arnie dispatching zombies left and right will be disappointed as when the handful of kills come, they’re achingly sad. A scene early on where Schwarzenegger pleads with an infected neighbor to show him some semblance of humanity and recognition is arguably the finest piece of acting he’s ever done. He’s stunningly effective and remarkably subtle.
First time director Harry Hobson really has given us a unique take on the zombie apocalypse, and his evocative, atmospheric approach is refreshing as genre films are rarely allowed to be this artistic and elevated. The cinematography (even on a streaming non-HD screener) is gorgeous, and the soundtrack by David Wingo ranks with the best he’s done for David Gordon Green. Truly, this is a really noteworthy genre effort. The only downside is that the art-house crowd that would appreciate this will likely be prejudiced against it due to the genre and Schwarzenegger’s involvement, despite the fact that he’s truly giving the performance of his life here. Don’t make this same mistake. Check it out (legally please – it needs your bucks) as this is the kind of serious genre work we don’t see enough of.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...