Earlier this week, Emily asked if “Arnold Schwarzenegger just ma[d]e an interesting movie” in the form of Maggie, an independent horror drama about a man named Wade (Schwarzenegger) whose teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is infected with a slow-acting zombie virus that gives her mere weeks to live before she starts hungering for those tasty, tasty brains.
So. Is Maggie interesting?
It’s not a bad film, but I’ll put it like this: It’s a spare 95 minutes, and I felt like I was in the theater for at least two hours. I’m all for thoughtful, character-driven genre films, but Maggie just drags. For 95 minutes, we’re treated to Arnie being told he has to kill his daughter before she fully turns, even though he clearly doesn’t think he’ll be able to do it. That’s a great, meaty bit of psychology for any actor to bite into, and it’s particularly nice to see Schwarzenegger get the chance to take on a more nuanced role than what he normally gets. He does well with it, too. It’s just not enough to sustain a whole movie. A really good short film: Yes.
What I found particularly frustrating about Maggie is that there are a lot of little worldbuilding tidbits that piqued my interest. Just as the virus takes longer to kick in than it does in most other zombie movies, so too is the world’s slide into social chaos more gradual. This is a zombie apocalypse movie where public radio still exists, where kids still go to school and get together to roast s’mores during the summer, even though their conversation turns to what happens to the infected after they’re taken to an ominous-sounding place called Quarantine. There’s an infrastructure in place to deal with the infected: Doctor’s appointments and a scale to determine how bad they’ve gotten and a “cocktail” they’re administered once they’re too far gone. There’s no cure on the horizon, though. The nearest city to Wade’s farm, Chicago, is a wasteland. Food is running out. Individual infected people like Maggie, but also humanity on a larger scale, are burdened with the terrible, terrible knowledge of what’s going to happen to them. They know it’s coming. It’s just coming really slowly. And there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
That’s what’s interesting to me—it’s more poignant and terrifying than the “Whoops! Everyone you know is dead, pick up this gun and practice your headshots” we get in most zombie movies—but Maggie barely explores it, choosing instead of focus almost solely on the psychology of a father whose daughter is slowly dying in an almost incidentally zombie-filled world. Which, fine. That’s the movie director Henry Hobson and screenwriter John Scott 3 wanted to make, with the zombie infection a metaphor for terminal illness. I’m not going to stomp my feet and whine “But why didn’t you make the movie I wanted to see, instead?” Like I said: Maggie isn’t bad. The performances are uniformly good, from Schwarzenegger and Breslin but also from Joely Richardson, who plays Maggie’s terrified and practical-minded stepmother. The cinematography is gorgeous. There are some really touching scenes.
It needed something else, though. Maybe not explosions and bad puns* à la Kindergarten Cop, but something to keep it from turning into a slow, shambling member of the walking dead itself.
*A lie. Every movie needs bad puns.