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by Jay Seaver

"Does a bit more than half a good job playing against expectations."
3 stars

Show me "Maggie" at a genre film festival with a cast of unknowns, and I likely react with unreserved excitement. That is, after all, the natural life-cycle and scale of movies such which play with genre conventions the way this one does. This one's got Arnold Schwarzenegger in the middle of it, and for all that this is intriguing in its own right, it throws things off even more than such an imperfect fit otherwise might.

He plays Wade Vogel, a farmer whose daughter has gone missing, which is even worse than usual, as an "necronambulant" plague is sweeping the country. When he finds Maggie (Abigail Breslin), she is infected, and though early quarantine is encouraged, he takes her back to the farm. Soon she will begin showing late-stage symptoms and need to be taken away for everybody's safety, but as another infected family demonstrates, that can be a hard thing to accept.

"Hard thing to accept" is the engine that makes Maggie run, more than most zombie movies. As the genre has matured, though, this has become a depressingly standard part of the storyteller's arsenal; that somebody will have to put down a creature that is no longer the person they loved most in the world or will have that as part of their tragic backstory is just a grim inevitability, enough so to have gone from wrenching to cynical. Writer John Scott 3 has not turned the premise inside out the way a team of Korean filmmakers did in The Neighbor Zombie, but he and director Henry Hobson hit on the idea of drawing the incubation period out, and by doing so push it away from being simply device to something audiences will recognize: A terminal disease followed by hard decisions about euthanasia. It's a more direct way of addressing modern fears of plague and disease, from the delusion that you can fight it through shear force of will to how authority tries to keep things together.

Director Henry Hobson takes this idea and mostly executes it pretty well. He's spent most of his career thus far doing title sequences, and as a result understands how to use images to trigger strong associations and how to set up a larger world without bogging down the main story, and that's what he does here, making sure that the audience knows where it stands genre-wise but not letting it overwhelm the cast. He mostly goes for a familiar sort of dark and washed-out color palette, but it's a look that works. Hobson gets all the technical aspects working smoothly and precisely (the zombie make-up is good but not distractingly so), and he's good at bringing an audience right into a scene so they can feel like they're part of this personal thing.

He's got a pretty decent cast to work with, too. Abigail Breslin gives more than some actresses would in the title role, a good kid facing something worse than her own mortality, bringing the fantastical parts of what's happening to Maggie close enough in line with how she's a regular teenager that her inevitable transformation becomes that much more horrifying. Joely Richardson isn't quite so able to connect the strange and the real as Maggie's stepmother, so she has a bit of a harder time serving as the pragmatic voice of reason, but she does it well enough no to look uncaring compared to Wade. The film is peppered with a number of actors in smaller parts, the kind that come in and out to present another facet of the film, and they're almost all spot-on.

And then there's Arnold Schwarzenegger, the exemplar of a guy seemingly built for big action spectacles placed in the middle of a small, intimate movie that's more about internal horror than blowing away external threats. It's not actually a bad idea at all; sticking a guy who has spent decades associated with raw power into a situation of utter powerlessness can certainly help drive Scott's & Hobson's points home. On top of that, Arnold's return to the movies after his time in the California governor's office has seen him embrace that he's not quite what he once was and be willing to stretch. It hasn't turned him into a great actor, though, and Wade Vogel can sometimes be tantalizingly far out of his reach. He's turning in some of the best work of his career, and he can tell a story or play off someone with feeling, but sometimes this movie needs to be carried by the expression on his face, and that's a bit more than he can handle.

If Schwarzenegger wasn't larger than life, it wouldn't matter as much - this is the sort of small movie built on twisting its tropes past their basics that can survive some rough spots because the idea is good. The scale is off when you add a superstar so that you can play off expectations, and as a result it's unfortunately easy to miss what is pretty good about "Maggie" because what doesn't quite work is so prominent.

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originally posted: 05/25/15 02:11:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/09/15 Luke C Somber Arnie is bad Arnie 3 stars
5/21/15 othree Not a great film, bad filming, wasted acting, no story, why Arnie why 2 stars
5/11/15 Man Out Six Bucks Depicts the human element of fate 5 stars
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  08-May-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Jul-2015


  DVD: 16-Jul-2015

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