The zombie film is alive and well in 2015. Even though I’m not a fan of the show, THE WALKING DEAD has given the zombie sub-genre a stay of execution. Unfortunately, most zombie films either offer the standard zombie story of a group of survivors going from point A to point B, or they focus more on the interactions and social dynamics of the human characters and marginalize the real stars of the film… the zombies.
And then there’s MAGGIE.
MAGGIE takes all the conventional zombie stories that came before it and throws them out the window. Let me be clear from the start, MAGGIE is not a horror film but is a drama. It’s a straight-up drama that focuses on how the outbreak of a zombie virus affects one particular family. There’s no on-screen kills, there’s no gore, and there’s no close up scenes of zombies munching on intestines or brains. Hell, there’s barely any zombies in this film at all (and the word “zombie” is never used)!!
The film picks up in the aftermath of a devastating virus that turns people into cannibalistic zombies. The government has finally gotten control of the virus and people’s lives are finally beginning to get back to normal. Schools will soon reopen and the government built quarantine centers where infected people are sent to die. There is still a danger of getting bitten by a zombie, but scientists have studied and understand the virus and know how it works and affects the human body. The virus takes time to turn its victims; it’s not instant as in 28 DAYS LATER. The most notable symptom is a loss of appetite. Once someone who is bitten loses their appetite, it’s pretty much game over. The victim will then experience an elevated sense of smell in which other human beings smell like meat (I’m pretty sure this is how Rosie O’Donnell smells other people). Soon thereafter, the patient’s appetite returns and they aren’t looking for Arby’s!!
We learn all this information gradually over the course of the film. There isn’t a montage in the beginning that shows the end of the world, and there’s no pre-credit information dump either. Some will find this film slow, but I find it has a refreshing pace that takes its time to develop the characters and craft a well-written, engaging storyline. The story also doesn’t try to explore too many characters. There’s really two main characters with a few other secondary players. The plot focuses on Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin). Maggie is bitten by a zombie (off screen) in the beginning of the film. Wade finds her in the hospital and after the doctor tells him that Maggie will slowly turn into a zombie, Wade takes her back to their home in the country. The rest of the film explores Maggie’s slow change and her relationship with her father. What’s different here is that Maggie knows what is happening to her. She’s not in a coma only to wake up as a zombie; she is fully conscious of the changes she is going through, both physically and mentally. I really like this aspect of the film.
Also in the story is Maggie’s step mother, Caroline (Joely Richardson). Caroline is clearly scared to death of Maggie but tries her best to support her and Wade. Everyone in Wade’s life keeps reminding him that eventually he’ll have to turn Maggie over to one of the quarantine centers once she “gets bad.” Wade knows it’s the right thing to do, but he also has no intention of turning his daughter in. We get vague stories about the horrible conditions inside the quarantine centers. Wade makes it clear to his wife and daughter that he will not turn her into one of the quarantine centers. Wades plans on having his daughter die with dignity at their family home. There are a few tense moments when Arnie, I mean Wade, faces a few zombies, but this isn’t the focus of the film. As I mention above, MAGGIE is a drama, and the focus here is on the relationship between Wade and Maggie. They previously had a strained relationship and Maggie ran off to the city where she became infected. But Wade has put all that aside and wants to reconcile with his daughter in the little amount of time they have left.
MAGGIE is the most human zombie story you will see. We get fantastic performances from Abigail Breslin and Schwarzenegger and you may never look at Arnie in the same light again. Arnie plays his role with a lot of emotion and sensitivity that we don’t usually get from the predator-fighting, terminator-destroying actor. I’m probably not doing a good job of selling this film, but I assure you its terrific. Sure there are aspects of the plot that don’t completely gel. Everyone seems to be very uneasy after the world almost ended (and rightfully so), so it seems unlikely that the government would allow infected people to walk around freely as they wait for the virus to take their bodies over. Forget about this, though. The strength of this film lies in the relationship between a father and daughter trying to reconcile and reconnect in the face of death.
I really enjoyed this film and was damn near tearing up at the end. Inevitably the virus takes over Maggie’s body and she struggles to keep her new urges under control. The final scene when Maggie says goodbye to her father is so well done. The emotions are completely believable and Breslin really shows her acting chops.
If you go into MAGGIE with the right attitude, I think you’ll enjoy this film. MAGGIE has a slower pace and isn’t concerned with gore and violence and showing zombies taking over the world. This is a very human film with human emotions set against the backdrop of the aftermath of a deadly outbreak. I doubt you’ll ever read me recommending a zombie film that has no zombies or gore in it!! Give this film a shot. I think you’ll like it.
Director: Henry Hobson
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 2 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer