Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Disturbing Thematic Material including Bloody Images, and some Language
Directed by: Henry Hobson
Written by: John Scott III
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers & Carsen Flowers
Today’s zombie market is so flooded with cheap B-movies and hit TV shows revolving around gory hordes of the undead attacking a small group of human survivors, it seems like filmmakers have forgotten what makes zombies one of the most unusual monsters in the horror genre. They are (for lack of a better term) us. They are unfortunate victims of a disease, virus, or plain bad luck that has transformed them into the undead who are hungry for the taste for the fellow-man. Zombie movies have long since passed the point of wearing out their welcome, but every now and then, you might encounter a rare exception. MAGGIE is special and unique film, reinvigorating a much-needed sense of humanity into this over saturated subgenre.
The zombie apocalypse has quietly sprung upon us. It’s not quite chaos in the streets, but an undead virus is loose and contagious. Those suffering from the sickness eventually turn into cannibalistic, decaying shells of their former selves. Maggie is a teenage girl suffering from said disease and is retrieved from the hospital by Wade, her loving father and only living parent. Wade has pledged to stay by his daughter’s side as she suffers through her various undead stages. Ultimately, he will have to make the choice of either putting her out of her misery or sending her to a quarantine zone (a fate that’s arguably worse than a quick bullet in the head). As Maggie’s condition worsens, her stepmother becomes increasingly concerned and Wade will do everything he can to protect his little girl.
Let me address the elephant in the room. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in this movie as the heartbroken father. No, he’s not necessarily considered a good actor for any recognizable talent, but instead for his over-the-top presence and cheesy one-liners. I think it’s safe to say that Arnold delivers his most mature performance in this film. He’s not necessarily the star though. Abigail Breslin steals the show, playing Maggie as a vulnerable teenage girl who’s going through horrible trials that no child should ever have to face. Even in her most monstrous stages, Breslin manages to keep a relatable level of emotion in her character (resulting in some near tear-jerking scenes). Schwarzenegger and Breslin don’t sound like a good father and daughter combo on paper, but cinematic magic permeates the screen and the two performers legitimately show convincing chemistry together.
On top of that, the film is beautifully shot and scored. A gloomy atmosphere hovers over the film. I could count the number of scenes in which sunshine was actually visible on one hand, because storm clouds and darkness lend to the feeling of omnipresent dread of inevitable. We all know what’s going to eventually happen to Maggie. The script doesn’t give any easy options or silver linings. This is a depressing story. It can get a tad too melodramatic in spots (one conversation about Maggie’s deceased mother feels like clichéd exposition), but most of the film cuts deeply. You are forced to identify with both Wade and Maggie, who are placed in a terrible symbiotic bond. Just because this film is PG-13 doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of cringe-worthy scenes as well. An early moment involving a finger made me wince. That being said, the focus isn’t on gore or bloodshed, but on a family being torn apart in this apocalypse.
I honestly loved how MAGGIE portrays its zombie outbreak too. Little details are given in pamphlets, talk about quarantine zones, medical tests, infected crops being burned, and (of course!) small town paranoia that breaks out in times in distress. The rate of infection is slow-moving too, so we get Maggie’s deterioration in the space of weeks as opposed to a mere hour or two. This film also reminded a lot of CARRIERS and THE ROAD in how it’s a depressingly believable vision of what a real world apocalyptic scenario would probably look like.
Those who go in expecting Arnold to kick ass and take names will be left disappointed. Those going in expecting a gory zombie flick that follows the clichés of a million other zombie movies will also leave disappointed. If you’re willing to venture into a uniquely different take on familiar material, then MAGGIE is more than likely to please. This is much-needed fresh blood in an overly saturated subgenre. It can get a tad too sappy in parts, but stellar performances and original writing make this one well worth recommending. MAGGIE is probably the most heartbreaking and emotional zombie film that you’ll ever see!