Rating: PG-13
Stars:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Douglas M. Griffin, Raeden Greer, Bryce Romero
Writer:
John Scott 3
Director:
Henry Hobson
Distributor:
Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
Release Date:
May 8, 2015

MAGGIE gives us a whole lot of things we don’t expect and perhaps didn’t know we wanted, but come to appreciate soon and thoroughly. John Scott 3 has crafted a screenplay that thinks through the zombie apocalypse more thoroughly than most in the genre. More, this is not a movie about a group of survivors, or even a lone survivor, facing down a horde. It’s a sober family drama that knows its turf well and never comes remotely close to sliding into parody.

Something else we don’t expect is Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on a role that seems to have been written for someone like, say, Chris Cooper or a younger Robert Duvall, and doing well in it.

In MAGGIE, Schwarzenegger, who is also one of the film’s producers, plays Wade Vogel, a quiet farmer in rural Missouri who goes into the city to retrieve his teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin). A necro-ambulatory virus – the disease that transforms regular people into the walking dead – has swept the globe. Wade’s neighbors are burning their fields to prevent the possible spread of the plague through crops. Maggie is infected, but Wade has no hesitation about bringing her home. His wife, Maggie’s stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson), sends the two younger children away and tries to support her husband and stepdaughter through an increasingly harrowing process.

In MAGGIE, it takes six to eight weeks for a full transformation to take place. This is a teen dealing with terminal illness writ large, with the added terror of possibly turning into a force of homicidal destruction after the end.

For once, walking zombies are presented as dangerous but not a force that can readily overthrow all of civilization. They may be deadly, but they’re also slow and don’t think clearly, which is why ordinary citizens can usually deal with them.

As much as possible, Scott and director Henry Hobson zero in on Wade’s struggle to make his daughter feel safe and comfortable and on Maggie’s struggle to come to terms with what’s happening to her.

Breslin gives a fluid, affecting performance, letting us see how young Maggie is in her infrequent moments of joy, how frightened she is and how close she is with her father. Schwarzenegger does notably contained work, not blustering or overdoing it. This is meant to be a quiet, naturalistic piece and the actor shapes what he’s doing to fit. His Wade Vogel is not a man who’s sure he’ll win a fist fight or is certain of what to do; all he knows is that he is going to be there for his daughter, no matter what happens.

The parent-child bond, more than anything, gives MAGGIE its tension. We become engrossed in what will happen to these people, trying to anticipate their actions and options.

Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin gives MAGGIE a spare, desaturated but somehow beautiful look that both suits and accentuates the mood. The film is precise, thoughtful, intelligent and heartfelt. In applying a new lens to a familiar genre, it feels bracingly different.

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