What a strange, uncategorizable movie MAGGIE is! Title sequence designer Henry Hobson makes his directing debut with yet another entry in a sub genre that just won’t die (or is it undead at this point? Much like the creeping antagonists that threaten to eat our brains in film after film). We’ve reached a certain saturation point with the Zombie Apocalypse where each new variation tries to stick out differently from the last. And MAGGIE is no exception to this. It tries (like, really tries) to be taken oh so seriously. Although the concept of presenting a zombie flick from the point of view of the person who is turning (or sometimes has already turned) is not an original idea, MAGGIE tries to take a more somber, grounded, and dare I say realistic approach. In both film and television, especially AMC’S THE WALKING DEAD, the name-your-virus-here instigating all of this craziness seems to last a matter of days, sometimes hours or even minutes. But in MAGGIE it’s a very slow process. The world itself seems to be wedged in between pre and post apocalypse and yet it still might take a very long time to get there. Nothing has broken down all that much. Phones and electricity still work. The police are doing their jobs. Regular people are more concerned with either not getting infected by their neighbors or trying to spend as much time as possible with the loved ones who are. An infrastructure continues to be in place. And what needs to be contained is contained… for the most part. As for what the future holds, who knows? MAGGIE offers no answer to that. Simply, it focuses on a father’s need to keep his infected daughter close while struggling over the best solutions when it comes to determining her fate.
In fact, the idea that this film revolves around a zombie plague seems incidental. For MAGGIE could’ve depicted any random epidemic as its backdrop. The focus here is on how, as an infected, do you spend the remaining days of your life? And how do your loved ones cope with this? It’s certainly an admirable premise to build your movie around, especially one representing a particular genre that elicits so much expectation going into it. But MAGGIE is not a horror film. Nor is it a post apocalyptic survival piece. Nor is it an action comedy. It’s an honest to goodness “indie” style drama. And MAGGIE is very sincere in its approach. Which makes for an odd viewing experience.
Adding to the weirdness, the film stars co-producer and action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s not strange so much in that he’s trying to deliver a more realistic performance than we’re accustomed to. It’s just jarring watching such a larger-than-life presence wander around in what is essentially an indie drama. Or at least the kind of film that aspires to have that indie “feel.” However Arnold isn’t bad in this. I couldn’t tell you exactly how good he is in it, either, as his performance consists of walking very slowly while looking glum and tired throughout and shedding the occasional tear. But you do believe he cares for his daughter. And his dynamic with Abigail Breslin certainly works. Although as the daughter she seems to provide the heavier lifting acting-wise, it’s not like you should go into this movie expecting Arnold’s character from THE LAST ACTION HERO stumbling out of JACK SLATER into something like DAWN OF THE DEAD. Not least of all because there is no action. At all. One or two moments where Schwarzenegger has to defend himself or his family from the odd ghoul now and then but nothing to bang your chest with. Indeed, this is the only Arnold Schwarzenegger film you’ll see where he displays a great deal of compassion towards his victims whether they be undead or not.
Suspense is kept to a very low minimum. It barely registers as a “hum.” MAGGIE is not interested in scaring you, creeping you out or instilling any fear whatsoever. Although nowhere near as hopelessly grim and depressing as John Hillcoat’s THE ROAD, both films share some similarities specifically in the way they attempt bring realism to an end-of-the-world or near-end scenario. Which in some ways is MAGGIE’s greatest flaw. Hobson seems to not trust his story enough and chooses to over compensate with flowing pastoral visuals while trying to derive meaning from everyday objects when there is none. To such an extent that as I watched this film, I felt inspired to dream up an SNL style parody called “TERRENCE MALICK’S WALKING DEAD.” MAGGIE is borderline pretentious in that way. When on paper it seems to be a much smaller and simpler film than that. The visuals are a distraction when our focus should be on the characters.
A very capable cast backs Schwarzenegger and Breslin, especially Joely Richardson as Breslin’s understandably concerned stepmom and Douglas M. Griffin as a sympathetic sheriff. So I cannot find fault in either the writing or the acting. But you do get the sense that something is missing from MAGGIE. Or, that maybe too much ado has been made about not much. Simply, this is a film about a teenage girl who slowly turns very sick while her father watches her die. I could have preempted that statement with a spoiler warning yet, honestly, there isn’t anything there to spoil. Because that’s pretty much all there is to it.