November 24, 2016
Maggie – US, 2016
It probably would look something like this. By this, of course, I mean a zombie apocalypse. It wouldn’t be sudden or instantaneous; you wouldn’t be able to count down the time it took for someone to turn animalistic and lose all of his humanity. If a zombie-like state were real, it would likely arrive as a plague, as a slow-moving virus that slowly eroded both the physical body and the human spirit until all that remained was a disheveled body being controlled by one’s basest instincts. It wouldn’t be understood completely, and in the absence of an immediate remedy, there would be panic, new laws, the stripping of rights – the list goes on. Its closest resemblance would be the early days of the AIDS virus, only on a much more horrific scale.
This is the world depicted in first-time director Henry Hobson’s Maggie. Like Signs and many of the best films of the genre, Hobson grounds his film, limiting its scope to just one town and one family. Playing against type is Arnold Schwarzenneger as Wade Vogel, a family man and farmer. In the film’s opening moments, we hear a message from his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) telling him that she has returned but not to attempt to find her. Wade, as expected, leaves immediately. He finds Maggie, infected, in a hospital, and, after learning that she does not pose an immediate threat to society, takes her home. It is what we would expect a father to do.
What follows is a study in what happens when fear and panic threaten to tear at our common humanity. There are some people that abandon the infected, sending them off to be quarantined for the remainder of their cut-short lives (and to a much worse future if what we learn about the quarantines in one scene is accurate); some who cling to the infected too long, putting both themselves and their neighbors at risk; and others who feel the need for one last meeting, one last hug, one last touch before the inevitable occurs. Maggie triumphs in these moments. In one of the most tender scenes, Maggie meets with friends from school for the last time, and we clearly see the pain of these final good-byes.
Other moments in the film depict choices that no person should have to make, such as when Wade comes face to face with two neighborhood children who have been infected with the virus. They have clearly succumbed to the virus, yet Wade still knows them by sight and calls out to them by name. One is just four years old. I can’t imagine the emotional toll such scenes would take on one person, let alone an entire nation. And Maggie isn’t at all ignorant – she knows that their fate could soon be hers.
As Joe, Schwarzenneger reveals a side to him that he has not shown often enough. Gone is the super-human character that inevitably performs incredible feats of strength, replaced by a quieter, much more subdued character. For the first time that I can recall in a Schwarzenneger film, I could sense the weight of the world on his shoulders and see the emotional toll of his character’s situation. In many scenes, Hobson strips away the actor’s standard bravado, revealing a character who pushes on, not because he can, but because he must. To do otherwise would be the beginning of his demise. Wade the kind of role he should play at this stage in his career, and if he keeps at it, he may just upend commonly-held misperceptions of his range as an actor.
I’m not saying that Maggie is a game-changer or that it will one day be hailed as one of the best of its genre. The movie is a bit too bleak, and it telegraphs its finale much too far in advance. Yet, sometimes that’s a good thing, for when a story has a logical conclusion, it’s hard to fault it for ending as expected. In truth, I became invested in these characters much more than I did those in more standard films of this genre, and I was moved by the inherent decency of many of the characters, from Wade’s wife Carolyn (ably played by Nip Tuck’s Joely Richardson) to the kind, yet blunt family doctor (Jodie Moore) and Sheriff Ray Pierce (Douglas M. Griffin) caught between enforcing the law and giving a friend a little more time with his dying daughter. In the end, Maggie is not flashy or spectacular, and those looking for scenes depicting mobs of zombies ravaging the streets of American cities should look elsewhere. Those looking for a quieter contemplation on life, love, and family, though, should give Maggie a chance. I’m certainly glad I did. (on DVD and Blu-ray)