A surprisingly competent directorial debut, Maggie elicits a career-best performance from the ageing action icon and successfully attempts to do something different within the bloated zombie genre.It's not the first time that the Austrian Oak has attempted to do something different. His film history is peppered with efforts in the right direction - like his washed-out ex-cop in End of Days or, more recently, his renegade in Sabotage (even Escape Plan featured quite a fun bit of atypical 'insanity' from him) - and yet he's always been handicapped by the fact that, ultimately, his characters still kicked ass. That was their job title. It doesn't really matter what Arnie tries to bring to the table, it's already been laid out for him. So Maggie comes as a striking revelation in that respect - whatever your expectations, within the first few minutes you realise that it simply isn't going to be an action movie. And you realise that Arnie isn't going to kick ass. He's just going to... act.The story follows a father and daughter in an unusual predicament. With a deadly virus plaguing the earth - spreading through crops and humans alike - the latest to be infected is Maggie, a teenage girl who is given a few weeks before she 'turns'. Her heartbroken father, Wade, is allowed to take her home so that they can all make preparations and say their goodbyes before the time comes for her to be taken back and quarantined. Before she fully turns. Henry Hobson's debut directorial effort certainly attempts to do something different with zombie movies, and finds some success mainly in the performances of his two lead cast members, and his portrayal of a devolved society which at times is reminiscent of the scenes set on Earth in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.
Hobson's story largely avoids traditional zombie movie tropes by telling a simple tale of a dying daughter set within that universe. The emotional rollercoaster that both father and daughter have to ride out together is no different from any other dying child scenario, but for the setting, and yet it's that striking setting that gives it a unique edge. Hobson, ultimately, struggles to avoid the pitfalls of painting the scene, of course, trading in visuals that attempt to be more Malick but oftentimes remind us of the world that we've seen already so many times before in everything from The Road to The Book of Eli.
Ironically, not wholly unlike in Genisys, it's Arnie who stands out in the piece, committing to an extremely - and atypically - reserved performance.
Even if Hobson's handle on the style and content aren't as adeptly handled as perhaps in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker, he appropriately rests the fate of the feature on the performances of the two leads, and it's a gamble that pays off. Aside from providing us with Arnie's best performance, understating his way through a role which he seems absolutely perfect for in the twilight stage of his career, we find a suitably strong-but-vulnerable core in Abigail Breslin's titular Maggie. Breslin is defiant and desperate, tough but tender, defeated and determined, all at once, juggling her hard-to-accept situation from one tough moment to the next, as subtle cosmetic effects ripple across her face to cement her plight.
Never overstaying its welcome, this small scale endeavour has the originality, heart and strong performances to smooth over the cracks beneath the surface, and whilst it doesn't always feel like the cohesive whole that you'd have expected from a more assured production, it still manages to provide something different for everybody who takes an interest in it - whether you like Arnie, zombie movies, or dramas, Maggie deflects your expectations at every turn.
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