Sunday 26 July 2015

MAGGIE review

When his daughter Maggie is infected with a mysterious virus that is spreading across America, Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) takes her back to the family farm to care for her. But soon her condition begins to deteriorate and Wade may not be able to control the changes Maggie is starting to go through.

Maggie is the sort of film that you would immediately expect to be horribly mis-sold, as given the genre it occupies, it could quite easily have been pitched as Arnie against an army of zombie flesh-eaters. But this is a post-The Walking Dead world we live in, where a zombie infection can be used as an allegory for almost anything, so our zombie dramas need to be a bit smarter. It's also a world where Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to lead a solid hit since his return to acting, with a chance that rumours of his renaissance have been greatly exaggerated. However, even if this small, Arnie produced film doesn't reach a hundredth of the audience of Terminator Genisys, it's a smart, shrewd move for him to make at this point in his re-launched career.

Arnie has undeniable screen presence in his usual action persona and has even previously proven himself to have a knack for comedy in films like Twins and Kindergarten Cop, but dramatic performances have never been his forte and have usually been undercut by his proclivity to flex his muscles or pick up a shotgun. Which makes it all the more impressive because he's bordering on excellent here. Okay, so he may not be totally believable as an all-American farmer in the Midwest, but as a father, slowly grieving as he cares for his daughter and clings onto as much of who she was as he can, he shows acting ability hitherto unseen. It appears that 30 years on, the qualities that made Schwarzenegger so good as an emotionless killing machine have matured into a tragic display of strong masculinity and stoicism.

Unlike his contemporary and sometime rival Sylvester Stallone, Arnie's face has been allowed by age largely unfettered and untouched by Hollywood glamour, and has left him at the grand old age of 67 with the crow's feet and deep lines that are any decent character actor's bread and butter. That's not to say that he will be threatening the stage of the Independent Spirit Awards anytime soon, but he's taken a step in the right direction to make sure his post-Governator acting career and evolution into more than an action movie star has a chance of longevity.

Abigail Breslin is also impressive as the young Maggie, tormented by her slow transformation into a monster (or necro-ambulent as the film poetically puts it). Featuring some gruesome finger-twitching moments but without ever trying to reach the body-horror highs of David Cronenberg's The Fly, Maggie's transformation appears as some sort of agonising torture; the petite teenage girl battling her unexpected and unwanted metamorphosis through gritted teeth as she addresses the everyday issues any teenage girl would have to deal with and that are still a concern to her.

Debut director Henry Hobson has created a beautiful looking film that comes alive with its shots of swaying cornfields in the daytime, but suffers from too drastic a change to barely lit interiors at night. The larger family dynamic involving Maggie's stepmother is only touched upon, and her siblings are swiftly dispatched in favour of a two-hander between Schwarzenegger and Breslin. Although hinted at, the goings-on of the outside world are left alone, though it is believable that this sort of rural family drama could be played out as a zombie epic rages on in some far away big city.

As a study of a father/daughter dynamic, it works well and is genuinely touching, picking up on themes of the loss of innocence and the ever-increasingly benign role of her father as a protector. Subdued and moody, its lack of pace will be off-putting to some audiences and Arnie's presence may well bring forward a weight of expectations that the film has no interest in tackling, but assessed on it's own merits, Maggie is a welcome addition to the zombie world.

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