If I told you Arnold Schwarzenegger would have a great performance in 2015, you’d probably assume I was talking about the upcoming Terminator sequel, but you’d be wrong. However, while Arnie’s performance is great, is his new movie, Maggie?
Wade (Schwarzenegger) is a farmer searching for his daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), across a desolate landscape. A viral outbreak has occurred and Maggie is infected. She has headed to the city to seek help. The problem is, this is no ordinary virus. This particular virus turns its victims into flesh-eating zombies. Wade finds Maggie in a city hospital and gets her released into his custody thanks to help from his doctor friend, Vern (Jodie Moore). He is given the instructions on what to do when Maggie begins succumbing to the virus—get her to a quarantine facility. He takes Maggie home to care for her with her stepmother, Caroline (Joely Richardson). However, for their protection, Wade and Caroline send their other kids, Bobby (Aiden Flowers) and Molly (Carsen Flowers) to stay with their aunt. The film then follows Maggie as she goes through the stages of the virus and how she spends her final days. Wade, meanwhile, must come to terms with what’s coming and whether he will send Maggie to the quarantine or let her die at home—a solution frowned upon by the local sheriff’s department.
If anything, Maggie is a different zombie movie than audiences are used to seeing. It is a much more realistic take on the genre, where the zombie condition is treated much more like a sickness that humans succumb to like cancer. Of course, you still have to be bitten to contract it, but this isn’t like The Walking Dead where five to twenty minutes later you’re a ravenous flesh-eater. No, in Maggie, the virus is like any other sickness—the speed of its spread depends on both how it was contracted and the overall strength of the infected. Instead of turning someone in minutes, the virus takes a few weeks to turn its victims. The state of the world is also much more realistic than on, say, The Walking Dead. Humanity is far from wiped out. The virus has done a lot of damage, but doctors are getting a handle on it and are trying to turn the tide. The plague also seems to be affecting crops too and there is one hauntingly beautiful scene where Wade must take a torch to his fields. The cinematography in both this scene and throughout the film is just beautiful—major kudos to Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin and Director Henry Hobson.
So, I enjoyed the more realistic take on the zombie genre and the exploration of this girl’s final days—there are nice scenes of her spending time with her friends and such—but, Maggie is far from a perfect film. First off, while the subverting of the zombie genre is good, there are a few clichés lying in wait in John Scott’s screenplay. The most egregious is the stereotypical small town “asshole cop,” Holt (J.D. Evermore). From the moment he appeared on screen, I pegged him as the “problem cop” that would take exercising his duties too far. They tried to paint him as man just trying to protect the town, but you could tell he was just a jerk. If Scott had added a personal anecdote for Holt so that we could see how the virus had impacted his life, I would have accepted his gung ho approach to pulling the infected from their homes, but we never get that and he’s just a cliché. Another problem I had with the film was with the backstory. So many people bend over backwards for Wade—especially Vern, which I felt was a very irresponsible move for a doctor—but we are never really told why. Sure, he has known these people for a long time, but I got the impression that Wade served with these guys in the military or something. I began to imagine Schwarzenegger was just playing one of his old 80’s characters, like John Matrix from Commando, and these guys owed him big time. I might as well fill in the backstory since the filmmakers don’t. These aren’t egregious errors, but they did serve to take me out of the movie at times.
Schwarzenegger delivers perhaps the most nuanced performance of his career. Arnie was never going to be accused of being an Oscar-worthy actor, but he shows a lot of depth here as a loving father in deep denial about his daughter’s condition. Breslin is also very good in playing a girl dying from a very strange disease. She hits all the right notes and the audience really feels for her. Richardson is very good as the wife and mother who is terrified of her stepdaughter, but afraid for her as well. Just a really good job by this cast in a film that could have easily turned into a schlock-fest.
Maggie is not a perfect film, but it puts a nice spin on the played out zombie genre and presents its story as a family drama with very unusual circumstances. The film has some meddlesome clichés here and there and some may find its pace a little slow, but I really enjoyed it. I’d love to see Schwarzenegger in more thoughtful sci-fi like this. Here’s to hoping.