“Maggie” Movie Review

     Director Henry Hobson’s feature film debut, “Maggie”, makes an interesting casting choice as it turns out, which I fully endorse.  At face value, the film has the appearance of yet another zombie apocalypse  thriller in the tradition of the hit television show “The Walking Dead”.  As you delve into the film; however, the layers peel back to reveal a true indie art house experience made on a shoe string budget and wholly dependent on the characters performing at a very emotional level.  That’s where the interesting casting choice comes into play since the film stars none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing completely against type and challenging his limited acting range to the fullest extent.  The resulting performance reminds me a lot of Stallone’s turn in “Copland”, as his scenes require a fair amount of dramatic heft in order to pull them off and he does so with a high level of competency.  Perhaps Arnold has finally found his post “Governator” niche after appearing in several unsuccessful action vehicles since his return to acting.

     Hobson’s film is not what you would expect from the genre and is very limited in scope with the story taking place primarily within the confines of a farm.  Wade (Schwarzenegger) discovers his daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), has been admitted to a local hospital after disappearing for two weeks.  She has been bitten by someone who suffers from what is called the “Necroambulist Virus”, which is basically what we know within the genre as a virus that will cause one to transform into a zombie at some point.  In this story, the virus doesn’t take over immediately and leaves the government no choice but to quarantine those who are infected until they die.  The opening scenes in the hospital indicate things are working a little differently in the rural Midwest as Wade is allowed to take Maggie home, allowing him to spend time with her while the virus is in its early stages.

     The story presents several situations which are normally unexplored in the standard horror presentation of this kind of material.  Wade is on his second marriage and has two younger children with his second wife, Caroline (Joely Richardson), who upon Maggie’s arrival home are shipped off to stay with relatives.  And so we watch over a period of several scenes in which Hobson directs with a slow burn the transformation Maggie endures and the drama that ensues between her father and stepmother.  At its core, the story is more tragic than anything else, as there is always a proverbial time clock associated with everything that happens since the outcome of Maggie’s demise is a literal certainty.  Hobson never moves the story into the familiar zombie tropes one might expect, instead choosing to explore the situations that arise during Maggie’s final weeks as she does her best to exhibit some level of normalcy.  A particularly troubling scene has her spending time with her friends who try their best to make her feel as if she is still part of the group, even though the physical changes are already become evident.

     It is said that as the virus progresses, Maggie will begin to develop a hunger for live flesh and thus will need to be removed from the home and sent to quarantine.  This is where the emotional side of the film really excels as Wade is confronted with the feeling that he doesn’t want to let go, even though he knows Maggie’s transformation is inevitable.  The dynamic between a father and a stepmother comes into play as well when Caroline begins to realize the transformation has already crossed the point where Maggie has now become dangerous to others and Wade questions her as to whether she would have the same opinion if Maggie were actually her daughter.  Step parents as it is have a difficult time putting someone else’s children on the same level as their own.  Imagine how hard it would be if that step child was infected with a zombie virus.  Not helping matters are the local small town police who seem intent on getting Maggie into quarantine sooner rather than later. 

     With all of this built in drama, it’s no wonder Hobson and his screenwriter, John Scott 3, are successfully able to keep the proceedings devoid of any gooey zombie goodness that is so prevalent in the typical undead story.  Genre fans will likely remember Breslin also starred in the 2009 hit “Zombieland” which seemed to launch the latest craze that has been such a fruitful premise for numerous movies and TV shows.  “Maggie”, with its Academy Award nominated lead in Breslin (2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”) instead covers the kind of interactions that might occur off camera in a zombie horror film.  The kind of interactions that actual people have when they discuss serious issues and try to come up with realistic and logical solutions.  If the film suffers anywhere, it’s the lack of pace during some of the scenes where a little excitement could have been in order.  Arnold’s performance is by far the best and most challenging of his career which for him results in a fresh take on a character, rather than us suffering through another recycled persona in a B level action film like “The Last Stand” or “Sabotage”.  Sure he’s going back to the well with another “Terminator” film later this summer, but at least he’s now attempting roles that allow him to give us something other than two and three word one liners.  GRADE: B-