Friday, May 8, 2015

A Reel Review: MAGGIE

When Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to acting in 2010 full-time after a long hiatus, he picked up right where he had left off; making crappy movies. During his time away from Hollywood, the zombie-genre became mainstream; inspiring straight-up horror films, comedies, and love stories…just about to the point of overexposure. Here in 2015, the Austrian Oak sheds his usual machine-gun wielding, wise-cracking routine…and spends time in a zombie movie which strives to break away from the normal brain-eaters. 

In a post-apocalyptic world where a deadly epidemic is turning people into deadly zombies, Wade (Schwarzenegger) rescues his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) from a clinic after she has been bitten and infected by a pack of zombies…and brings her home to wait out her inevitable transformation. 

It doesn’t take long to realize that MAGGIE is a departure from the stock zombie flick, and is certainly not the usual Schwarzenegger vehicle. There is nothing more powerful than bringing home a sick child knowing that she is going to die soon, only this time the death/transformation would mean danger to the rest of the family. As Maggie begins her slow turn, Wade is faced with three choices; to turn her over to a concentration camp/quarantine facility where she would inhumanly spend the rest of her days, or to slip her a drug where she would pass away quietly, or to end her life quickly via gunshot. It’s a choice that no parent should ever have to make, and this is the heart and soul of MAGGIE which separates it from the usual zombie-flick. 

While the film tries really hard to be different, director Henry Hobson has a lot going on which does not mesh well. MAGGIE starts out as a horror film, then it turns into a family drama, and then a teen drama, and then back to family and back to horror. There are many different genres going on at once that never quite mesh into one, and it often feels disjointed. There also seems to be some lapses in the film’s own logic; the world is dying and things are bleak, and yet teenagers are still able to hang out and party as if it was 1999. 

There is still a lot to admire in MAGGIE. Hobson shoots the film with an intimate touch that brings out the human heart, and with the natural mood-lighting and haunting score, the film has a trance-like quality to it. The drama between family members is where the film is at its best, and the choices the they are forced to make are heartwrenching. There is an arthouse quality to MAGGIE, as it is slowly paced, beautifully shot, and never once mentions the term “zombie”. Maggie’s transformation is  fascinating and horrific thing to see as she goes from spooky, glossed-over eyes to decaying flesh to labored breathing…to an appetite for meat which doesn’t involve bacon. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger turns in the most mature acting job he’s ever done. Playing the role of a father facing incredibly difficult choices, it’s a role that he could not have done during his younger days as it certainly requires an element of age. With his grey beard and leaner physique, he looks older and wiser than ever, and his acting matches it. Abigail Breslin shows great chemistry with Schwarzenegger, and it’s never a stretch to buy the two as father and daughter. Joely Richardson struggles with her southern accent, but turns in a good role as Maggie’s step-mom. 

The finale is a bit predictable, but makes sense considering the place the characters were in…and while the world MAGGIE takes place in has little to no hope, it still leaves us with a good feeling. Slightly flawed but smart enough to stay interesting, MAGGIE gets more than enough right to earn a viewing. 


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