Cert: 15 / 95 mins / Dir. Henry Hobson / Trailer
What a weird state of affairs this is for zombie-fans; where a box-office draw who is also a generally underrated actor brings us one of the lamest examples of what can be achieved with the genre, and an equally powerful (commercially, at least) figure who is usually the cinematic equivalent of a paperweight brings us one of the best.
In a time not too far from our own, humanity, indeed global civilisation, is being royally challenged by the Necroambulist virus, a contagious disease which transforms its victims into snarling, drooling carnivores devoid of empathy (or indeed civilisation). After becoming infected whilst exploring alone in a devastated city, Maggie is detained by the authorities, kept under medical supervision and is about to be shipped to one of the government's approved Quarantine Centres when her father Wade, a crop-farmer from Kansas, locates her and persuades the doctors to let her come home until the infection reaches the critical point of The Turn. But can Maggie be trusted to roam freely with a dangerous condition that the medical establishment are still learning about? And can the inhabitants of her small hometown be trusted to let a flesh-eating timebomb roam in their midst..?
Most importantly, Maggie works perfectly well as a zombie-flick; if you want to enjoy it on a literal level, that won't be a problem. The film's undead-epidemic follows (mostly) the established structural format, so the script keeps medical and social exposition to a minimum, relying on the audience knowing how this sort of thing works by now. The area where it slips away from the pack (yet still doesn't feel the need to over-explain itself) is the progression of the virus itself. Whereas in most films of the genre a bite results in a fatal fever and reanimation usually within a matter of hours, the Necroambulist infection takes around eight weeks to reach its conclusion, over which time the subject can walk, talk and interact as normal, albeit with progressing symptoms of zombie-ness. Most intriguingly, because the virus in the film is a slow transformation which doesn't use host-death as the binary division-line, "The Turn" (as it's called in the film) can be effectively snapped-out-of, up to a point at least. Dramatically, this is the film's trump-card as the central character can both beloved daughter and feared monster, if not simultaneously then alternately at least.
But like all the best zombie movies, Maggie purposely doesn't use The Z-Word, and works better when it's viewed as an allegory for another issue; in this case, the coping mechanisms of AIDS sufferers*1, their families and communities. Leaving aside the cataracting eyes, pitch-black blood and decaying flesh, it's a remarkably delicate film. While Abigail Breslin is magnificent in the title role, it has to be said that the film wouldn't work without Ol' Arnie as her father, either. I have to join the crowd on this one and say how refreshing it is to see Schwarzenegger in a role which is genuinely different for him, and he's a good casting-choice for Wade, as he doesn't over-egg the pudding of earnestness (although credit is also due to director Henry Hobson for not letting him, either). Arnie still doesn't have a massive range, of course, but at least the screenplay lets him try his hand and doesn't reduce him to a gurning catchphrase-machine.
Visually, the film is of The Walking Dead school, with all but one of the scenes desaturated to the hilt. Rather than the lingering desolate landscapes however, lens-master Lukas Ettlin prefers the hand-held closeup, yet the agoraphobic result is still the same: the person who's the most scared in the film is the monster herself.
I promise you, you've never seen such a thought-provoking film which also features two zombies making out. If your cinema is showing two Arnie films this week, pick this one.
Maggie is another film with a very sparse cinematic release, but if you can, do.
Rental; you may not get too many watches out of it before the metaphor becomes too apparent to make it properly enjoyable.
Breslin is outstanding, Richardson is capable, Schwarzenegger is far better than he has any right to be.
Probably not too much.
Abigail Breslin starred in 2013's August: Osage County, as did Ewan 'Kenobi' McGregor.
(All roads lead to Kenobi, today.)
*1 It could well apply to all terminal (especially contagious) diseases, but the attitude of the non-infected characters in the film leans heavily toward that of the early days of HIV/AIDS when little was known and treatments were as optimistic as they were pharmaceutical. And it's a heavy-handed allegory, sure, but how much to you want to tiptoe around small-town prejudice?
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.