If you were hoping for a quality dramatic performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger, good news, you’re going to get it. Trouble is, it’s hard to appreciate because first-time feature director Henry Hobson gets way too carried away with subverting zombie movie expectations and he winds up making Maggie a dull, miserable watch in the process.
Schwarzenegger leads the film as Wade, a father who manages to track down his missing daughter in the midst of a zombie apocalypse only to find out that she’s been bitten. Even though he’s well aware that Maggie (Abigail Breslin) will become increasingly dangerous, he’s willing to put his own life at risk so that they can spend her last few weeks together.
The premise of the film is downright brilliant. A good deal of zombie movies feature victims getting bit, dropping dead and then quickly reanimating as members of the walking dead. What if that process took weeks? Would you just give your loved one up to quarantine or would you rather take your chances and stand by his or her side until the very end? It’s a disturbingly fascinating idea that might even make you reconsider how you treat the ailing in real life. However, while it is an ingenious starting point, Hobson and writer John Scott don’t seem to know what to do with it.
The film’s marketing campaign has very clearly conveyed that Maggie isn’t your typical zombie apocalypse movie. There’s no running from hordes of zombies, there’s minimal blood and gore, and there’s no flashy action sequences either. However, even if a viewer walks into this well aware of that, the movie still needs to answer the most basic genre questions, especially because the story is set during such a unique time of a zombie apocalypse. When Maggie begins, the world is well beyond the initial outbreak and is working to suppress what’s left of it, primarily by spreading awareness. After being bitten, Maggie winds up at a “shelter for the infected,” but we never find out much about how such a facility operates. There’s also some talk of the need to wear rubber gloves, but very few characters actually do it. Why is that? Do the employees feel comfortable enough around the infected now?
At one point, Maggie receives a pamphlet that details what she needs to know now that she’s infected and rips it up to convey how devastated she is, but it’s hard to care about how she’s feeling when you’re so desperate to read the thing. Hobson and Scott clearly wanted to make a movie that steers clear of genre cliches and is a father-daughter drama above all else, but they go to such an extreme that Maggie might as well have been about a kid with cancer.
It’s especially frustrating and unfortunate because all of the performances are solid and the premise is insanely promising. Schwarzenegger probably won’t ever completely shake the super tough exterior, but he certainly comes across as a very relatable, loving father here. Breslin gets a nice assist from the eerily natural zombie transformation makeup, but it’s her ability to move between selling Maggie as a strong young woman trying to keep it together for her family and also being downright terrified that makes the performance especially heart wrenching.
However, despite their quality work, their relationship isn’t half as powerful as it could have been because it essentially goes nowhere. They love each other dearly and spend the large majority of the movie moping around because of the hopeless situation. Wade’s got to go up against the local authorities who are determined to take Maggie to quarantine to keep the town safe while Maggie suffers through what’s largely an internal struggle, but there’s no character growth or conflict within the relationship. Joely Richardson could and should have created a good deal of tension as Caroline, but Hobson’s subdued approach to the material makes her character feel more like a passive sucker rather than a stepmother who has to choose between supporting Maggie and Wade or going off to be with her two younger children.
The most moving part of Maggie is a brief sequence during which Maggie gets to spend one last night with a group of high school friends, including Trent (Bryce Romero), a guy she had a relationship with who’s now also infected. Whereas all of the moments between Maggie and Wade feel rather monotonous, seeing an infected Maggie try to have some fun with her healthy high school friends is incredibly refreshing. There’s no forgetting the fact that Maggie is on her way out, but getting to see her hang out with her best friend Allie (Raeden Greer) and share one last tender moment with Trent makes her two subsequent scenes with them the most effective tearjerkers of the movie.
Maggie is just one big missed opportunity. Hobson’s certainly got potential, but his determination to highlight the characters’ misery through dim visuals and super sad faces winds up completely sucking the life out of the concept. (Pun intended.)
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