Arnold Schwarzenegger has finally given the world a zombie movie, but it is nowhere near the version audiences had expected. A slow considered drama, Maggie is perhaps the most subdued zombie film ever conceived. Taking place during the aftershocks of a viral outbreak, Henry Hobson’s film concerns itself with the human aftermath, rather than the “running scared” aspect that dominates the genre.
A stone-faced Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) drives with a purpose as a voicemail from his daughter plays in his head — she has left her small Midwestern home to explore the more dangerous city. While details never fully materialize, Wade finds Maggie (Abigail Breslin) in a quarantined ward for those infected with the deadly “necorambulist” virus. Like a quickly moving terminal illness, the virus is a little-understood pathogen that will completely destroy the host, turning them into cannibalistic shells of their former selves. Maggie has a severe bite on her arm and has been confirmed as a carrier. Released into Wade’s custody, she has mere weeks to live before police come to ensure either her death, or her delivery to government funded “quarantines” where the zombies are permanently dealt with.
A Southern Gothic sensibility and natural lighting accent the exceedingly human tale of love and loss. First time director Henry Hobson tells his story through blurred flashbacks and tender moments shared between father and daughter. There is no need for theatrics or action set pieces here, the outbreak has happened, and it has been controlled; all that remains is the quiet persistence of the healthy. Unlike the standard genre method of dealing with the loss of a loved one (anyone who has been infected must be destroyed at a distinct point after they have passed), Maggie draws out this inevitable dramatic conclusion, blurring the line between human and zombie. A progressive disease, the virus works at an undefined pace, rendering any easy decision about exactly when to “pull the trigger” useless. Although Maggie’s creeping black vascularity is a telltale sign of the disease’s progression, individual symptoms like agitation, loss of appetite, and the eventual flesh cravings waver in their presence. Despite her disease, Maggie is decidedly a thinking, feeling person. A science fiction Still Alice, Hobson’s film grapples with the ideas of euthanasia and loss of self in a completely new way.
John Scott 3’s script favors emotion over dialogue, allowing both lead actors to give markedly powerful performances. A far removal from the traditional Schwarzenegger action film, Maggie has the muscular former-governor drop his “trained killer” persona in favor of an emotionally devastated blue-collar farmer. Allowing him only one fight (more of a slight tussle), the script benefits Schwarzenegger by forcing him to be quiet and act with his expressions. Well-placed close-ups from Hobson enhance his already remarkable uncharacteristic performance, giving Arnold a chance to show off his ruggedly-masculine emotional side. Breslin is perfect as the tragic coalescence of a terminal patient refusing to be defined by her illness and frightened little girl. Terrified of what she may eventually be capable of, or what she may be subjected to, Maggie is incensed by a world she perceives as being so full of cruelty and injustice. Breslin deftly injects a constant innocence into her increasingly made-up character, as compassion and love shines through to the bitter end.
While Maggie is not without its faults (some clunky dialogue, and some open-ended questions, i.e. “why are the infected allowed to go home at all?”), it is a conspicuously fresh take on the zombie genre. A film that deals more with heady emotional concepts than surviving a viral apocalypse, Maggie is the perfect actor’s showcase for a man long thought to have given up drama.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.