If I told you Arnold Schwarzenegger would be in a zombie film, you’d picture a film very different than what Maggie has to offer. I have been following the progress of this film for a while because I am a fan of Schwarzenegger’s work, and I’d like to see him try new things aside from his action comeback roles –many of which haven’t received the best responses, commercially and critically. Given Schwarzenegger’s dual role as actor and producer, it’s obvious he want to explore new territory as well.
The film follows the titular Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is a teenager in the Midwest who gets bitten by a zombie. Her father, Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger), stands by her side having to face an outcome that they both know is coming.
The zombie genre has always been a go-to subject for many low budget filmmakers, since it gives the opportunity to explore multiple cinematic techniques, handling of characters, dealing with make-up and action, etc. It’s cheap to do and if done well, it can grab the attention of filmgoers and studios. Maggie is directed by first-timer Henry Hobson (who according to his IMDb page has mostly done work in commercials and designing titles for movies, TV and video games) and the screenplay, which was on the Black List, is written by John Scott 3. The film does do some interesting things. Instead of relying on gore, action or even social commentary like most zombie films, Maggie instead offers a purely human story that personalizes the drama that would ensue at the brink of a zombie apocalypse; it’s more of a disease drama than your typical zombie film. Imagine a feature length version of all those scenes in zombie movies where a prominent character gets bitten and their best friend or relative has to deal with it. So, it may not surprise you that the movie is incredibly depressing, like really depressing. So depressing that even Michael Haneke would tell the filmmakers to lighten up. Granted the somber tone is appropriate given the very premise. However, Hobson’s lack of a distinctive style does hurt the film. Cinematographer, Lukas Ettlin does fine work, but the movie lacks that unique voice that adds a certain punch and the whole soft-lighting, handheld aesthetic that I see in every other indie movie doesn’t help. The same could be applied to Scott’s script which takes too long to really get going and find its emotional core. And while I like the ending in theory, I think more could’ve been done to make it resonate more strongly.
Despite the issues in its writing and directing, it is ultimately the acting in which the movie is at its best. Aside from its solid supporting cast, it rides squarely on the shoulders of its two leads. Abigail Breslin does stellar work considering how much makeup is being increasingly applied to her, and the way she expresses that sadness of never being able to experience adulthood feels genuine. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the clear standout. He hasn’t really done many films that required him to expand beyond his charismatic on screen presence, since most of his films are either action or comedies. Maggie is the closest he’s come to a straight drama and I think he does terrific work. It’s not going to win him any Oscars, but it’s the kind of performance that makes you step back and go, “OK, with the right role and the right director…maybe there’s a possibility in the future.” It’s a subtle, layered, restrained and emotionally vulnerable performance that I think works so well because of his age and his experience. I doubt he would have pulled off a performance this good 20 years ago. If this is a sign of what direction his career will go in terms of age-appropriate role choice, then I’m more than interested to see where it takes him.
Maggie has a very simple conceit, and it pulls it off just reasonably well in terms of its plotting and direction. In the hands of a more experienced director, I think the film could have been much more effective and hard-hitting, but as is the movie is good, but not necessarily great. Schwarzenegger doing something new and interesting is the one big reason to watch the film, and I highly recommend it on that alone. Also, quick shout-out to David Wingo’s wonderful score. It’s an admirable effort that does show some potential for the filmmaker’s future endeavors and it finally gave Schwarzenegger a showcase to give an honest-to-God performance that I always knew he had in him. Even if you’re not the biggest Schwarzenegger fan, the film is worth at least a solid rental or Netflix viewing.
Side Note: Since the trailer first came out, I’ve noticed certain people bring up how it reminds them of the videogame, The Last of Us. Well, it turns out one of director, Henry Hobson’s gigs was being the title sequence director and designer for The Last of Us. As far as Arnold Schwarzenegger goes, you’ll see him in a couple months in Terminator Genisys, which I will root for, but if I was just going by its haphazard marketing…oy. Aside from that I am aware of a continuation of the Conan series that he is doing called The Legend of Conan, as well as a sequel to Twins that’s been attempting to get off the ground for a while called Triplets because it’s totally not almost 30 years too late to revisit the Benedict brothers.