A teenage girl in the Midwest becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.
It took a couple of acres to tackle such a tough role but Schwarzenegger flexes his acting chops like never before…
Ubermensch Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger has done battle with literally everything! He’s been up against a deadly Predator, various superior Terminator models, a crowded field of candidates running for Governor of California and even a severe case of sensitive nipples but never have we seen him dealing with zombies.
First-time director Henry Hobson robs the last action hero of his power to lure out an unprecedented performance from Schwarzenegger as Wade, a desolate soul out to protect his family whilst savouring every last second he has left with his daughter who has been infected with the necro-ambulist virus. Whilst Schwarzenegger’s revelatory performance is what has everyone’s chins wagging, the real hook here is the fact that Hobson and scribe, John Scott 3, tap into an uncharted area of the zombie world with Maggie favouring a family-focused approach over an archetypical and overblown zombie rampage narrative. Whilst that idea might deter die hard bloodlusting zombie fans, I promise you that even the most ordinary of interactions in Maggie make for an intense and disquieting cinematic experience…
Whilst at first sight Schwarzenegger might seem like the last person to choose for such a grounded role, it is in fact his percolating power that works in the film’s favour. It’s clear that Hobson had one thing in mind: To take the always triumphant Schwarzenegger figure and set him in a situation where he is faced with choices that ultimately all lead to failure as he is unable to protect those closest to him. The only way Schwarzenegger can prevail in a film of this nature is with his acting chops and that is where he remains as kick-ass as he ever was. Surprisingly, he is at his utter best when in silent mode and his vacant stares of despair really serve as mirrors into the pain and impotence he is burdened with. He may have been in three Expendables movies but never has he felt as expendable as he does in Wade’s lose-lose situation shoes.
But enough about Arnie, what about Maggie? Well, Abigail Breslin absolutely couldn’t have been more authentic as this heartbroken teen forced to come to terms with her predicament. Her acting range is so impressive as we see Maggie come of age in such a short space of time, grappling with the necro-ambulist virus, the threat she realises she poses to her own family and the terrifying foregone conclusion lurking right around the corner.
Joely Richardson is also fantastic as the fragile and protective, yet increasingly stronger Caroline who is forced into the awkwardest of roles as mediator and Devil’s advocate as the safety of her own kids is also on the line.
Hobson kept the exact same stripped down approach when it came to the whole aesthetic of the film. Gone is the polished intensity we have come to expect from cinematographer Lukas Ettlin in favour of a gorgeous rough and organic palette which is enhanced all the more by David Wingo’s sinister yet emotional score.
This might be Henry Hobson’s directorial debut but this has all the trappings of the work of a veteran helmer. Schwarzenegger also shows the world he has a couple of acres by taking on this role as a farmer out to protect his dieing daughter – as it was so far out of his comfort zone – but he prevails, and then some. Maggie is the revivifying transformation the dead tired zombie genre was gasping for and marks a stunning debut for a director with a clearly promising future.
Fun Fact: The German version includes an extra scene involving an argument between Caroline and Wade that didn’t make it into the UK and US versions of the film.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)