2015 (USA / Switzerland)
Contains mild spoilers.
Ok. Review 200 and what better way to celebrate than to take a look at a triple-A Hollywood giant strut his stuff. On paper Zombies and Arnold Schwarzenegger have always seemed a match made in heaven, and my first question coming in to this was really why hadn't it happened sooner. Ok, I'm being a little disingenuous if I'm honest as I did know a little about the film before watching, and I could see the cover, but the point about lots of guns, lots of shooting, lots of zombies and the rootin' tootin' former governor that we think we know still stands. Which leads on to my second question, given, as we've said, the cover and what we've been lead to believe we might be getting into; how could, said somewhat wooden one dimensional action hero conceivably pull this off.
Zombies are rarely the focus of a zombie film. Hold on. What I mean by that, is the zombie is almost always the driver for the action, the horror, the comedy or, in the case of writer John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson's Maggie, the drama and the character relationships; and not necessarily the focus itself. In Maggie, the zombies are still real; I was actually taken aback at just how gnarly and well, zombie, they were, and the world is still reeling from an actual apocalypse; but this isn't really about them and there really aren't that many in it. One however, has bitten Sixteen year old Maggie, played by the extremely talented Abigail Breslin (who people may recall was also in Zombieland) and that's what's important.
Maggie is a poignant and often beautiful father daughter tragedy exploring themes of love and death, and the moral complexities of euthanasia. Yeah, it's not a pop-corn and beer thrill ride; more the quite sad and heart-wrenching have a hanky at the ready sort of experience. It opens with Wade (Arnie) finding Maggie in a hospital quarantine area, having confirmation that she's infected and then him taking her back home where she'll see out her final few weeks. It's rare to set a zombie story after control has all but been restored, but what Hobson's bleak broken vision of rural small town middle America might lack in inherent danger, it more than makes up for in complimenting Maggie's personal story in atmosphere and aesthetic. People may have law and order but they're a people broken and still in shock. Cities and fields burn, power and water are intermittent and trying to bring humanity and control to the remaining zombie threat is proving hard for all involved.
As said, the actual zombies are dark, demonic, savage and everything you'd want in a modern post Walking Dead world. What's good though is the only real threat any more is from the poor unfortunate souls that were bitten before order was restored, and who have been allowed to return to their loved ones before their final transformation. Necroambulists is what the world calls them. So dead (necro) that walk (ambulists) and quite the nice phrasing that I may well pinch in the future. Transmission is virus and transition from bitten to full on snarling flesh eating monster quite a few weeks. Things to look forward to on the journey are a worsening wound with the putrid infection clearly spreading out, cloudy opaque eyes, and then as one gets close, a hunger for meat, mistaking human flesh for meat, and a loss of will and cognisance stopping one from tucking in.
Schwarzenegger's portrayal of a Dad coming to terms with the fact he can no longer protect his little girl is both poignant and moving and honest and commanding. I could be cynical and argue the lack of lines plays to his strengths; Maggie is a slow, expansive feature, full of long wistful shots; but that I feel would be doing him a great disservice as at times his mere presence and silence fills the screen more than maybe a barrage from an AK-47 ever could. There's also an assuredness to his performance; a grandeur and earnestness, demonstrating a far greater versatility than his portfolio perhaps suggests and suggesting that he just may have picked a thing or two about this acting lark along his near forty year career. Also having daughters of his own helped, as he's quite happy to admit.
I was genuinely moved by Maggie and whilst I can recognise much of the criticism the film received I have to say I'm fully on board with what Hobson et al were trying to achieve. It's moody, deliberately sentimental and a tad indulgent but also honest, authentic and coherent with a story impossible to tell any other way without losing its heart and identity. Ok the zombie angle is perhaps a headline grabber; zombies sell right? And the father daughter story could just as easy be cancer or some other horrendous condition without the fundamental narrative altering, but by making it zombies, and making the parallels it did, it certainly made for an altogether more thought provoking endeavour with a unique stark and startling vision. Visually sumptuous, confidently crafted and masterfully performed by all, this desolate post-apocalyptic love story is a tough but deeply enriching watch if one can be willing to indulge oneself - 8/10.