When I first heard the buzz around Maggie directed by Henry Hobson and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, I marked it down as a film I had to see. Unfortunately the hype around it had died down so much, that when I finally got the chance to watch it this weekend. I came at it fresh. The film stands up as a serious look at disease, rather than an action packed thriller.
Arnold plays the father of the title character, who has a difficult choice after he rescues hid daughter Maggie, from the ER after a Zombie bite. Immediately this film is different from say World War Z as it deals with how society is coping with the outbreak in rural America. The outbreak itself seems to be on a much smaller scale than other films of this kind. We aren’t really told anything of the death toll and only see one deserted city, were Maggie has had the misfortune to be bitten. The radio chatter is very much surrounding crops and how to keep this disease from them. Basically burn them and let them regrow.
When Maggie is taken home Arnold is told that her bite is so severe, that she would not normally be allowed home. He has a few weeks to say his goodbyes before sending her to quarantine. Right from the beginning we know that this is not something that Arnold will do. Despite never seeing it, we get a horrible picture of quarantine. Basically when infected people are on the turn into zombies, they are taken to an area, injected with a lethal combination of drugs and allowed to die, or eat each other, presumably whatever comes first. It raises a real question in this film about how society would deal with ‘the infected’ if they were still the minority. In all other films Zombies quickly become the majority and as such there is no social implications to the carnage. This film has a turning time of around 8 weeks as opposed to the 20 seconds of World War Z. Even The Walking Dead has a shorter turning time. In the Walking Dead some of the most dramatic episodes are when one of the main characters has been bitten and now has a few hours to make peace with the world. Stretch this out for a few weeks and see it through the eyes of this victim and her father and you have the premise for Maggie.
Initially Maggie is ok at home, she has lost her appetite and the wound on her arm is getting worse. Her step-siblings are moved out of the home and she is left with Arnold and her step-mother, played by Joely Richardson. However soon he severity of the bite leads to a rapid breakdown in her health and behaviour. She visits the local GP, Verne and while pacified by him, he tells Arnold just how this is going to go. Basically he hand her over to the authorities or he puts her out of misery himself. Arnold has to contend with this as well as the over eager sheriff’s department of his town, who want Maggie sent to the authorities as soon as possible. He deals with these complex issues by pretending thy aren’t going to happen until he meets two of his neighbours in the woods, who have fully turned. He has to kill them both, one a four-year old girl. They had fully turned because the wife and mother had kept them locked in the basement. After this Arnold knows it is a matter of time until he has to make the same decision with Maggie.
With Arnold’s character arc established and indeed very well performed by the veteran, we move onto things from Maggie’s perspective. In all aspects it is if she has a disease similar to AIDS in he late 80’s. She is allowed in society but she is whispered about and even her friends openly talk offensively about the situation she is in. She talks it out with a friend/boyfriend who is also infected and she realises the hopelessness of the situation she is in. There is no cure for this disease. It is very much a death sentence and in this film it is a long painful one. As Maggie begins to deteriorate she starts to have a heightened sense of smell. This is the first sign of the turning as the smell of other people begins to smell like food. She is talking with her step-mother when all of a sudden she catches her scent and asks what is cooking in the kitchen. Things come to a head when her friend is taken to quarantine and Arnold has to fight the Sheriff and deputy from taking Maggie as well. Her hunger uncontrollable, she eats a wild fox that has become trapped in the woods.
After this we know things are near the end, Verne offers Arnold the cocktail of drugs to end it all, however he says the shotgun would be a more humane way. His wife leaves the house to him and Maggie and they reminisce about her dead mother, in one last effort to make her fight the turning he takes her to her mothers garden and also talks about her battle with cancer presumably. This could come to save his life as when he is sleeping Maggie comes down, almost all traces of humanity missing and begins smelling him. Instead of biting him she kisses him and walks off. Arnold, had been pretending to sleep and as a result willing to let her bite him; Instead Maggie’s last act is to throw herself from the roof, taking the difficult decision from her father and ending her life on her own terms.
The two leads both act well in this film. Schwarzenegger as always is at his best when he says very little. The contrast in size between him and Abigail Breslin, conveys how much he looks after his daughter and is her protector. By playing on this he comes across as very believable, despite still being Arnold Schwarzenegger. Breslin goes from annoying to heroic over the course of the film, playing very much the cancer, Aids type sufferer we have seen portrayed on-screen. In all this is not a film for zombie fans. This is more a drama about the difficult choices faced by a father and societies reaction to deadly disease in its midst. Worth a watch but it is perhaps telling that the original hype didn’t last. It needed to have a bit more depth and information about this particular zombie outbreak. Instead it comes across as a stellar episode of a TV drama rather than a feature film.