Emotional rather than visceral, it is a gripping and powerful study of despair
Big Arnie gives a genuinely emotional performance in Henry Hobson’s hauntingly melancholic tale of fatherly devotion in the aftermath of a zombie plagueAfter a viral pandemic has swept across America, turning those infected into ravenous zombies, society struggles to return to normality and farmer Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) has an agonising dilemma to endure. His teenage daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), has been infected and is slowly deteriorating. Although he has sworn to care for her and protect her right up until the end, he knows that as tragic as her plight is, and despite her courage and her love, she will ultimately become a monster, herself. Thus, as humanity begins to regain a foothold in a blighted, decimated world, Wade gradually understands that he will be forced to face the ultimate and most harrowing of decisions as his precious daughter inescapably slips awayUnlike any other zombie movie, Maggie is a bittersweet and poignant story of desperate devotion and of a bond that can transcend death. The apocalypse is narrowed down into an intensely personal drama that tugs at the heartstrings instead of yanking out the intestines. First-time director Henry Hobson explores his unsettling theme with finesse and subtlety, eschewing the gore that the genre usually paddles about in, opting instead to give room for his characters to grow and develop, and maintaining a level of perfect melancholy against a stylised, Great Depression-like backdrop of widespread decay, mistrust and resentment. Emotional rather than visceral, Maggie is a gripping and powerful study of despair. Arnie versus the Undead, it is not.
Picture QualityHobson’s moody zombie movie has an intensely stylised look. Shot digitally, his 2.35:1 image (encoded here via AVC) is desaturated and drained of much vibrancy and colour, and has had grain added in post-production. To be honest, this fine layer of artificial grain looks quite organic at times and does lend the image some welcome texture. I was never distracted by it.
Detail is very, very good indeed. This is a film that revels in faces and eyes. Expressions mean a lot so the focus is very keenly fixed upon people. Both Arnie and Joely Richardson exude pain, fear and heartbreak from their very pores. You can even revel in the landscape that Arnie’s wizened countenance has become. And you know what, even though he has been made to look even more haggard here, he looks amazing. He always had a Clint Eastwood face – when seen from certain angles (there is a great shot in The Terminator where he looks exactly like Eastwood) – and this grizzled appearance, with scratchy beard and deeply etched worry lines is fascinating to gaze upon. The transfer allows you to really study this leathered look. We see instructions printed on pamphlets and edges of cracked slivers of glass. A fox prowls around some finely rendered undergrowth and the zombie wounds and putrefaction seen in the hospital are acutely horrible and massively detailed.
Overall, this is decent transfer that yields vast amounts of detail and fine definition
Going along with the image’s revealing ability is the attention bestowed to the gradually developing makeup for Maggie and her friend, Trent, played by the aptly named Bryce Romero. We see the infection spread over flesh with finite scars and then a mosaic of black veined decomposition in wonderful clarity. Black pus-filled blood drips from a severed finger and eyes turn in to shiny obsidian when the victim is in the final stages. Although intentionally subtle for much of the time, we can still marvel at these small-scale fx despite the muted palette and the often wan lighting.
The transfer is far from top notch though. Black levels, in the main, are very disappointing – not unusual for Lionsgate, who released the disc with Universal. Shadows are not consistent and frequently diluted and hazy. Contrast is compromised, though the deliberately muted and earthy, dry look of the film can shoulder some of the blame for this. There are a couple of occasions when character outlines can be “jagged” and slightly blurred in movement, and one tracking shot over ruined buildings loses a fair amount of definition – signs and graffiti that I’m sure were supposed to be legible are indecipherable. While all of this is apparent, none of it is particularly distracting or bothersome , however.
Overall, this is decent transfer that yields vast amounts of detail and fine definition, although black levels could and should be deeper.
Sound QualityAlthough this is not the most bombastic of films, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track experienced here can still be quite aggressive when it wants to be. Flashback scenes to Maggie’s initial attack have a nice and immediate severity to them. But this is mood piece in which the lion’s share of the running time is given over to melancholy and introspection.
The surrounds aren’t taxed. They support the overall ambience with some environmental asides – rumbling thunder and the sound of cicadas. The score pleasantly bleeds across the soundstage. Width across the front is good and spacious and there is a tangible depth afforded the track. Voices are positioned and steered, as are various effects. It isn’t the most exciting of mixes, but there is still a surprising amount of “stuff” going on. To my ears, it all sounded convincing and accurately placed.
This is a great audio track that is scintillatingly clear and gently encompassing.
Dialogue is always crystal clear. Arnie’s accent is never explained, but Abigail Breslin does deliver a humorous and touching take on his iconic voice. Joely Richardson’s American accent is not the best, but it comes over well enough. Voices are distinct, clean and full of variance. As are the occasional undead rasps and snarls that punctuate the soundtrack.
Given the quiet and often leisurely approach taken, things like car doors opening and closing, cicadas chirruping, muffled gunshots, a kitchen waste-grinder and an axe chopping through wood can sound alarmingly realistic. The creaks and groans of the old farmhouse setting are also tangibly heard.
But by far the best and most finely realised element of the soundmix is the score from David Wingo (and Amman Abbasi). This is a wonderfully moving creation that provides an ominous edge when required, but is predominantly morose and grief-stricken. I think it is a fabulous score and it is presented on disc with power and clarity and movement.
ExtrasThere might not seem much on offer here, but what we get is good.
There is one Deleted Scene that is actually very decent and provides a powerful and quite important insight into the sad deterioration of the relationship between Wade and his wife, Maggie’s stepmother, Carolyn (Joely Richardson).
Director Henry Hobson flies solo for a detailed Commentary in which he covers quite a lot of ground regarding the story, the stylised look of the film, the outstanding performances, the little elements of visual effects, the cinematography, the score and the various references and in-jokes that were injected.
Both Hobson and Arnie provide meaty Interviews. Arnie, especially, is on fine form and packs his 18–minute session with passion and honesty, providing reasons for taking on this role and how he got so deeply in to character. His words do tumble over one another at times, but you can clearly see just how much this role and this story meant to him. We all love Arnie, but you will warm to him even more just listening to his heartfelt delight in finally getting an opportunity to “act”. Hobson, too, is good and concisely chronicles his approach to the subject.
The Making of Maggie is a nice little overview of the production with lots of interviews with the cast and the producers. Some repetition with the above interviews occurs but this is still a good look behind the scenes.
I think the US disc had a couple more interviews on it ... but what is here should still please fans.
Blu-ray VerdictUnarguably not the sort of zombie movie that will appeal to everyone, Maggie is a beautifully haunting experience that shines a light upon a grim element that the genre all-too often ignores – the actual loss of someone you love. Whether you see the zombie infection as the ultimate price for a decadent, narcissistic and greedy society, or as a metaphor for cancer, Ebola or any other sort of terminally debilitating condition, it does occasionally need deeper emotional exploration than just shooting or stabbing them in the head.
Personally speaking, I adored this film. I found the performances and the dark, sombre mood mesmerising, the unusual and offbeat approach to a subject that has pretty much reached saturation point fascinating and nuanced, and the theme of devotion in the face of the cruellest adversity profoundly upsetting. When I first encountered Maggie, I was left shell-shocked and literally shaking with grief. Several viewings later, it is no less devastating. Now that hardly sounds like a recipe for a good night’s entertainment, but then I must have a penchant for bleak and disturbing stories. And, much like The Road and The Grey (both movies I have the highest regard for, especially The Grey), Hobson’s intimate depiction of a relationship’s last harrowing days seeps into your soul and refuses to ebb away, no matter how many tears you spill.
if you come to this film expecting a gory shoot-em-up, then you only have yourself to blame
Arnie, as many people have already stated, is a revelation here. A far cry from his action man persona, he totally embodies Wade with searing conviction and acutely tangible despair. Just one look in his eyes convinces that he is a man clinging on to every last precious second he has with his daughter. Subdued and thoughtful, he digs deep to produce a performance that captivates and moves, all prior machismo snuffed out and extinguished by utter heartbreak and vulnerability. When you see the former Commando now unable to save this particular daughter, all that cinematic history and indomitable charisma we know and love actually helps to make this character all the more human and pitiable. That he chose to do this low budget and personal drama, championing the script and helping to produce the film shows genuine guts and passion, as well as an immensely pleasing willingness and ability to stretch his wings.
But, this said, it is still Breslin who owns the film. No stranger to the undead, with Zombieland under her belt, she inhabits a forlorn limbo between life and death with unparalleled nerve and credibility. The transformation may be subtle, but you are always aware of the physical and emotional war that her body and her mind are undergoing. Maggie’s continual determination to retain humanity makes her inevitable feral lapses all the more shocking to behold. Her teenage angst weaponised and honed with ghastly supernatural menace, yet always a predicament that we can sympathise with and relate to, thanks to Breslin’s impeccable performance. We are totally seeing a young girl with her whole life ahead of her being slowly eroded. You don’t have to have a daughter succumbing to zombiedom in your family to understand the pain and futility of watching, helplessly, as someone you care about slowly decays and withers.
David Wingo’s immensely moving score plays a huge part in helping first-time director Hobson achieve such a hypnotic ambience and a ceaseless sense of foreboding. Brooding, dark and tragic, it floats delicately over the proceedings like the last, slow gasps of breath. Again, this is not to everybody’s taste, but to those who fall under its spell, it is music to savour in those dark and lonely moments. And Hobson directs with charming understatement, letting scenes and ideas and performances play out naturally, with neither fuss nor flash. We know where it is all heading, but the film’s meditative longuers actually move in-synch with the characters’ desperate embracing of life and love whilst such concepts still exist. The creepy scene in which Wade probes around a neighbours’ house, and discovers the grim reality of what may await him and Maggie when the time comes, is sickly entrancing, Schwarzenegger totally nailing the sadness and the horror with one amazingly choreographed and beguiling tear.
As a die-hard lover of the entire zombie phenomenon, I found Maggie to be a tremendously satisfying addition to its decomposing ranks, both fresh and unique, and distinctive. It works as a character story and as a mood piece. The narrative is slow and morose, yet flavoured with occasional flourishes of brightness and beatific tranquillity. There might not be any hope on offer, but as a treatise on dealing with the unthinkable, it is honest and believable, and possibly cathartic.
This UK Blu release might not have the best transfer in the world, but it is still detailed enough to reward. The extras, though seemingly only few, are terrific and give a great insight into the themes of the film and the motivations of all involved in its creation. Arnie, as I said earlier, is especially wonderful to listen to, revealing ever more layers to his personality with practically every sentence.
I know there are people who hate this film, and I know the reasons why. It is slow. It is a very sad and depressing story. There isn’t any typical zombie-action to speak of, and Arnie is bereft of quips and stripped of a bodycount. But, quite frankly, if you come to this film expecting a gory shoot-em-up, then you only have yourself to blame. It certainly isn’t perfect, but I loved every damn second of Maggie. This is an upsetting film, make no mistake, but its mission in the pantheon of cinematic undead lore is plug a gap that has been wantonly left by so many other filmmakers. A mission I believe it succeeds in. Maggie tackles the zombie issue from an unusual viewpoint, but one that is relevant, affecting and thought-provoking. Well worth seeking out ... and not just for Arnie’s brilliant performance. There’s much more on offer here.
You can buy Maggie on Blu-ray here
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