I wanted this film to be good. I watched the trailer months ago and I had high expectations. But did you know that the film company that produces a film is rarely responsible for putting together the trailer? Specialist film companies, that focus purely on marketing the product, will edit the best bits of a film, often out of sequence, with the sole purpose of compelling the audience to buy a ticket. With that in mind I’ll begin this review.
If you’ve had enough of zombies, plague ridden dystopian futures and the ubiquitous reworking of “the end of days” scenario, then you might want to give ‘Maggie’ a miss. However, if you like Arnold Schwarzenegger (some of us still have fond memories of him from his ‘Terminator’ years) then you will enjoy seeing him play a mature, devoted father. Even if his daughter is slowly turning into a flesh-eating zombie.
Abigail Breslin (Oscar nomination for ‘Little Miss Sunshine’) plays Maggie Vogel, a teenage girl who has been bitten and infected with a deadly virus. She calls her father to say goodbye and tells him not to look for her. But loving father Wade (Schwarzenegger) finds her two weeks later in the quarantine wing of a hospital. He persuades the doctor, who is a good friend, to allow Maggie to spend her remaining days at home with the family. Maggie’s condition will slowly deteriorate until she becomes a threat to other humans. She will then be returned to quarantine and given a lethal injection. That is the protocol for all the infected. The story is set in the mid-west of America. A poor farming community where people are trying to get on with their lives in spite of the outbreak. Farmers burn their fields in an attempt to halt the disease, leaving a flat bleak terrain that director Henry Hobson keeps coming back to, amplifying the hopelessness of the situation, the uncertainty of the future and the losses in a community that had very little to start with.
Writer John Scott III made his way onto the infamous Blacklist in 2011 with this script. The Blacklist has been around since 2005 and is a yearly compilation of the best, as yet unproduced, screenplays in that particular year. Scott has taken a completely different direction with the zombie theme in ‘Maggie’. Yes, there are scary, bitey moments in the film, but the main focus is on the father and daughter relationship and the impact that Maggie’s condition has on her family.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is surprisingly good in ‘Maggie’. This unshaven, middle-aged and slightly befuddled person is loyal and clearly loves his eldest daughter very much. Schwarzenegger’s performance is convincing and well played. Breslin is a bit of an old hat when it comes to this genre as she co-starred in ‘Zombieland’ – that highly entertaining, road trip movie that places zombies in a post apocalyptic world. Plus Emma Stone. Beat that!
But the pace of ‘Maggie’ is a problem. And that’s probably down in part to the editing. There are moments where I was mentally begging the camera to pan in or out on anything other than the interminable focus on the mundane. Takes that were just a bit too long, that could have been foreshortened in the editing room. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin has pedigree with ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ and big budget/big flop movie ‘Battle Los Angeles’. The terrain in ‘Maggie’ reminded me of Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Near Dark’ (1987), a personal favourite that I can’t recommend enough, which is a master class in the vampire genre (if that genre exists). Jane Rizzo is credited with the editing on ‘Maggie’ and she has some outstanding work like the right now film ‘Z For Zachariah’; a post apocalyptic sci-fi film that features the same languorous editing that we see in ‘Maggie’. Maybe with time, ‘Maggie’ will become more than it is right now. But for the immediate and foreseeable future, audiences may well be viewing this film based entirely on the riveting trailer that made them buy that ticket. Oops.
DIRECTOR: HENRY HOBSON
STARRING: ABIGAIL BRESLIN, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, JOELY RICHARDSON