Wait, so, this is a small independent zombie thriller staring Arnold Schwarzenegger? Really? I would not have thought Arnold would take such a low key role that frankly, doesn’t put him in the spotlight. But, here it is.
In a post zombie virus-infected world, Arnold plays Wade, a husband, and father to daughter Maggie, who is bitten and infected. She will soon turn into a zombie herself. Wade vows to protect her at all costs.
Maggie is a very somber film. It is, by nature, kind of a downer. Maybe too much so. Think of a film about a daughter with an incurable disease. It takes place in the Midwest – or really more like the plains states, with lots of flat farm land – after a virus outbreak that turns people into flesh eating zombies. Not the rabid ferocious kind, the classic lumbering kind. But gruesome nonetheless. And again, there’s no cure. None.
The film makers do a fine job of adding interesting little devices – radio broadcasts in the background, filling us in on the current state of things, what symptoms to look for if someone is infected, the transformation process and how long it takes, etc. We get a good idea about how it’s affecting things. however, then there are things that don’t seem to quite jive with all that. There’s still a working law enforcement in this town. The hospitals and doctors all seem to be working almost like normal. And yet, gas stations are left unattended because those that work there may have been infected. There’s not a lot of products on the shelves. It’s kind of a strange, uneven condition for a world to be in if there’s a zombie virus apocalypse going on.
The only thing I can think of as I consider these inconsistencies, is maybe this kind of virus hasn’t hit massively, all at once. Perhaps it’s more gradual so we aren’t seeing a world that’s in an apocalypse level event. It would explain some things, but it still feels incongruous in general. You see, it’s just not entirely clear.
What does feel right, ironically enough, is Arnold Schwarzengger’s acting here. He is surprisingly effective as a father feeling the frustration and weight of his daughter’s condition, and his struggle to want to help her, but is unable to. If you want to know if Arnold can cry on cue, the answer is ‘yes’. He really portrays the pain of Wade’s situation rather deftly, especially for a guy that has spent a career shooting things and blowing things up, while spouting cheesy one-liners. If Maggie is anything, it’s proof that Schwarzenegger can do something with feeling, something more than we’ve seen from him before in film.
I’ll say that all the acting is pretty good here. Joely Richardson plays Wade’s wife and Abigail Breslin plays Maggie, and they’re both great. There’s still some problems with other character’s actions that feel off because of those overall inconsistencies. Such as Maggie’s friends wanting to see her and acting almost like nothing is wrong. There’s some psychology at work in these scenes that feel awkward or unnatural.
Ok, that synopsis above is basically the same as any you read about this film. But there’s something very important missing from all the synopses you read about Maggie. It’s missing some form of real conflict resolution. And ultimately, this is what’s really wrong with Maggie. From pretty much the very beginning, you know that this zombie virus is incurable. You can’t get rid of it once you have it. Soooo, you know how it’s going to end, really. No spoilers, because they tell the viewer up front. So, Wade can’t really do anything to save his daughter, Maggie, he can only decide how she leaves this world.
I think it’s interesting that Schwarzenegger chose this role. For a man who has spent over 30 years being the big action hero who saves the day, he picks a film with a character who is powerless to do anything to save anyone. It is at once perplexing and kind of genius at the same time. It is really unfortunate that the script wasn’t a bit better, more consistent. If it had been, this would have been a triumph all around.
As it stands, it’s an acting coup for Arnold, who more than holds his own, and frankly gives the sole reason to see this film. Maggie is fine if you’re on a plane, or maybe it comes up on cable or streaming, or if you don’t believe anyone about his acting and need to see it for yourself. But otherwise, this is not a big screen need. I find it teetering between two and a half and three kittenhands. I think I want to like it more than I do.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, counting the hours until Mad Max: Fury Road!