In simpler times, Maggie would be a revolutionary zombie drama about the inevitable clutches of death that take hold after a victim becomes infected. But we live in a world where there’s not one, but TWO shows based on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, plus we’ve had zombie period pieces (Fido/Exit Humanity), romantic zombie movies (Warm Bodies), child zombies (Cooties), and just about every other zombie movie incarnation you could dream up. So why do writer John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson get a pass for their eerily human zombie tragedy? Easy: Arnold Schwarzenegger. And no, not ass-kicking Arnold, either. A sad, broken, helplessly distraught fatherly Arnold – which is a version of Arnold the world needs more of.
Abigail Breslin stars at the film’s titular Maggie, an infected, soon-to-be zombie who comes home to spend her final days amongst family. Her father, Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger), struggles to cope with his daughter’s impending fate, and he refuses to let her enter the cold containment of a hospital’s quarantine unit. With the help of his new wife, Caroline (Joely Richardson), Wade holds his little girl close until she lets out her final gasp – but will he have the ability to swiftly put her zombie form down?
Maggie is, very simplistically, about death. Well, it’s about life, mortality, and the certainty of death – to be precise. Death is scary, unknown, and completely unavoidable, yet must be faced when the time comes. Wade is forced to struggle with these questions while Maggie’s time winds down, which is where the film’s dramatic meatiness beefs up. Doctors give Maggie weeks to live before she turns – time that her father savors with every ounce of love possible. Parents are never meant to bury their children, yet Wade is forced to watch the light of his life slowly flicker out, but it’s his unconditional love that keeps Maggie alive for as long as she can be.
Diving further into Hobson’s dreary country nightmare, Maggie is about grief, acceptance, and fighting an utterly helpless feeling when you can’t save a loved one, no matter how hard you try. It’s about learning to cope with your darkest emotions, especially when there’s the threat of a brain-munching fate if you don’t act rationally. The whole zombie infection angle can be seen as a metaphor for terminal illness, and with that in mind, you might just find your own emotions becoming intertwined with Wade’s breaking heart.
For a movie about the undead, John Scott 3 manages to inject a commanding human element into Maggie’s unfortunate situation. In this dystopian world, zombies rarely roam free. They’re treated like patients, especially when newly bitten. Programs have already been instituted to ease the creeping virus, curfews are put in place to protect civilians, and containment is priority number one. Abigail Breslin doesn’t have to play a shambling zombie, mindlessly shuffling about like a rigid corpse, but instead a young girl staring death in the eyes. It’s this tragically human focus on the zombie scourge that allows Schwarzenegger and Breslin to strike a beautifully loving chemistry, making this zombie film about tragedy and sorrow – not blood and guts.
Schwarzenegger has not shown such on-screen power in quite some time, and he doesn’t need his fists to do the work for him. His turn as Wade is gut-wrenching, sweet, sincere, and utterly beautiful, even though he’s trapped in every father’s nightmare. It’s an emotional side of Arnie that we rarely get to see, and you have to credit Hobson with trusting one of Hollywood’s greatest action heroes to be anything but that. Where was this Arnold hiding, and why don’t we get him more often?!
Abigail Breslin is no slouch, either. Her strength and complacency is a stark contrast to Arnold and Caroline’s constant worry, as she slowly turns into a full-on zombie. The maturing child star brings power to those with terminal illnesses, showing that you can still live your life in the face of death, no matter how much time you have left. This is the largest theme of Maggie, and without her (sometimes) bright outlook, the entire movie would be a plodding, boorish husk of a film.
That’s not to say Hobson doesn’t drag the ordeal out a bit too long, though. Maggie is, at moments, a touching dissection of finality, but the film’s barren landscape does challenge less patient viewers with little to no excitement. This is all about the bond between father and daughter, and how it’s challenged by an apocalyptic fate. For the most part, it’s a zombie-less zombie movie, so don’t expect Arnold to strap on his skull-crushing boots in an attempt to cleanse the Earth of infected monsters. Hobson’s film can be a slog, but it’s a damn finely acted slog.
As for the picture and sound quality, this Blu-Ray transfer is clean and enjoyable. Never once was I bothered by any inconsistencies, and although there’s not much beauty to soak in (Maggie is rightfully a pretty dark movie), Wade’s empty farmland has a crystalline nature about it. Somber tones then add a soundtrack that brings this haunting horror drama to life, as creeping overtures build upon the already weighty balance of life and death. There’s nothing to complain about as far as technicality goes, so you’re safe in that respect.
Here’s what Maggie offers in the way of Special Features:
- Director’s Commentary
- Making Maggie
- Interviews With The Cast And Crew
- Deleted Scene
- Maggie Trailer
These features seem a bit meatier than they actually are, because “Making Maggie” is patched together from the press-day interviews that are then labeled as their own extra addition. You’ve also got Hobson’s commentary, the film’s trailer, and a single deleted scene, which doesn’t really bring much more intrigue to the table. Although, I could listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger say the word zombie (pronounced “zahm-bee) for hours on end. The way his accent makes a mockery of the English language is an audible assault of unintentional hilarity, so maybe there’s more value in these interviews than I originally suspected…
Is Maggie the next zombie epic? Like I said, maybe in another world, where zombie dramas haven’t been attempted before, this would be a game-changer. The way Hobson channels our most primitive fears through the lives of two people shows a restrained skillfulness, and he certainly gets the best of out both lead actors. But when it’s not on-point, Maggie can drag a bit. There’s no denying that a zombie’s lifeless soul sometimes creeps its way into Scott 3’s storytelling, and even with Arnold giving it his all, you might find yourself glancing at a clock here and there. It’s a worthy effort featuring some lesser-seen Schwarzenegger gold, but it’s not the be-all-end-all of zombie dramas. Not in the least bit.
Maggie gives us the rare opportunity to marvel at Arnold Schwarzenegger's emotional range as an actor, but it's hard to deny that some scenes mirror a zombie's lifeless state.