Monday, 21 December 2015

Maggie

When I’ve tried to explain Maggie to people, it’s always gone down the same way. I’ve explained the plot to them – it’s a slow, dark, drama in which a single father struggles to come to terms with his infected daughter’s slow transformation into a blood-thirsty zombie in post-apocalyptic America. They’re always intrigued. They ask “Who plays the father?”, and I answer. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And they laugh. Yes, Arnold isn’t exactly known for these quiet character pieces, and the zombie genre is certainly one that he’s never been involved with before. But, much to the shock of myself and the majority of others who have sat down with Maggie, he is an integral part of what makes the film so good.


Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray and directed by Henry Hobson, Maggie is one of the biggest surprises in the last 12 months of cinema. It’s a simple story, but one that arguably has a subtle ingenuity that makes it one of the freshest ‘zombie films’ in a long time. In the world of Maggie, a bite takes weeks to turn the infected into a cannibalistic undead monster. So, when Wade (Schwarzenegger) discovers his beloved daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been bitten, he faces an internal conflict. Does he try and protect her and live with her no matter what, or who, she turns into? Does he do the right thing and send her to the ‘quarantine zone’, as is the enforced law in the film’s universe? Or does he put her out of her misery? This tricky situation is what drives the film, and frankly there isn’t much more to it. It’s a very slow, quiet and dark character study that asks you what you would do, if it were your daughter. For me, the zombie theme wasn’t essential – in the sense that the plot could’ve almost worked if it were about disease, with a father struggling to accept his daughter’s cancer. But here, using the zombie theme is a subtle backdrop that gives the film much greater darkness and dread. Just don’t expect a Walking Dead movie here. You probably see about 3 zombies, and even that is brief. Maggie is a human drama.


These themes of family, love and grief would not work if it weren’t for such a solid human cast. Abigail Breslin is phenomenal as Maggie, slowly succumbing to the monster inside her. And a special mention here for the superb make-up that makes Maggie’s slow deterioration and transformation all the more harrowing. But the film belongs to Schwarzenegger who commands the audience’s attention with a quiet, sensitive and powerful performance as Wade Vogel, a man who has failed to protect his daughter and now must do everything he can to care for her until she is no longer her. Director Henry Hobson, who brings us his directorial debut here after mostly working on opening title cards for films like Sherlock Holmes and video games like The Last of Us, loved the idea of casting Schwarzenegger against type. Although he initially chose him as a ‘shorthand for protective father’ - feeling he didn’t need to establish Wade as such due to the relationship we audiences have with the bulking star - he felt that after he’s been ‘the hero in everything’, it was time to use him for something else. It could’ve been a risk. But if you allow yourself to be absorbed by the film’s world, you will completely forget you’re watching the Terminator caring for his sick daughter. Because with performances like this, you forget that it’s a performance.

Maggie is a fantastic film. It’s not perfect, granted. There are some issues with pacing where the film moves so slowly it may as well be not moving at all, and some things are explained rather poorly. But in Maggie, the good far outweighs the bad. You’ve got two incredibly powerful and sensitive performances from a pair you wouldn’t expect much from. You’ve got a genius script – written by John Scott III, winner of the Thriller/Horror category in the 2010 PAGE Screenwriting Awards which brought it to the attention of director Hobson – that brings something fresh to a tired genre. Throw on top of that the gorgeously bleak cinematography and David Wingo’s hauntingly beautiful score, and you’ve got an incredibly solid directorial debut.


So if you’re one of the people who has laughed at the prospect of Schwarzenegger in a role like this, then shame on you. If it helps, just forget everything you know about the man, and then give him a chance. You’ll be glad you did. If you can’t manage that, there’s still a lot to like here outside of Schwarzenegger’s performance. Maggie is not a horror, nor is it really a ‘zombie film’ as the marketing may lead you to believe. But it is one of the most powerful dramas of the last 12 months, and one that comes highly recommended.

Maggie’s stunning central performances, strong premise and haunting beauty earn the film a solid 4/5.

★★★★☆

Sam Love


Maggie at CeX


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