When I heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger was starring in a zombie movie, I wasn’t interested. For me, the best zombie stories are about the surviving characters and how they deal with the dead, and by deal with the dead, I mean how they fight to stay safe and alive, not how many corpses they can kill and how big the guns and bombs they use are.
I’ve never been the biggest Schwarzenegger fan. Sure, I’ll happily watch the first two (maybe three) Terminator movies again and again, Total Recall is superb, and the first Predator movie is an eighties classic, but Arnie’s never been a personal favourite, and the thought of the ageing all-action, ex-bodybuilding, ex-politician rampaging through hordes of the living dead just didn’t appeal. When I heard more about the project – MAGGIE – I became more interested. And when I got around to watching the movie, I realised my preconceptions were misplaced. MAGGIE’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a damn good little movie (yes, little movie), and Schwarzenegger is a revelation.
As a viral pandemic spreads across America, Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) searches for his runaway daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) and finds her in the quarantine wing of a hospital. Wade brings his daughter back home to his family for the short time before the teenager begins a painful metamorphosis.
Determined to hold onto his precious daughter as long as he can and refusing to hand her over to the local police Wade edges ever closer to a time where he will have to take matters into his own hands.
I think of MAGGIE as a movie about redefining relationships, and with that in mind, Schwarzenegger’s casting here is inspired. I guess a sizeable proportion of the film’s audience will go into it expecting the same kind of thing I did: Arnie being Arnie and saving the day and beating the bad guy as only Arnie can. But that’s not what happens. Arnie can’t save the bad guy, because the bad guy also happens to be his daughter and all he wants is to protect her, no matter what the cost. In the same way, what we’re expecting from our knowledge of Schwarzenegger’s back catalogue makes the faults and frailties of the character he’s playing all the more affecting.
As I said earlier, this isn’t a perfect movie. First time British directed Henry Hobson cultivates a lovely tone of grim hopelessness, and knowing that Maggie herself is walking a thin line between being a helpless kid and a cannibalistic killer (and she can’t control which side of that line she’s on, no matter how hard she tries), gives whole story an uncomfortable sense of unease. For all Arnie’s efforts here (and I think he’s really, really good), the real revelation is Abigail Breslin as Maggie. Helpless and heartbroken, you can’t help but connect with her.
All said, MAGGIE is definitely worth an hour and a half of your time. Such a shame it had a very limited theatrical release, particularly when you think how many people turned out to see Terminator: Genysis. On the strength of this film, I’m not particularly interested in seeing Schwarzenegger return to his old roles. I’d much rather seem him tread new ground as he does here.