Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Best Of What We've Missed So Far: Maggie

The Good: Wonderful acting, Interesting characters, Beautiful direction
The Bad: Utterly preposterous plot
The Basics: The moment one accepts the boneheaded set-up for Maggie and moves on, they are treated to a surprisingly deep, emotional work well worth watching!

This year, I have been sitting out much of the early part of Summer Blockbuster Season. After being generally disappointed with the much-hyped The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!), I decided to focus on other writing and less on movies at the outset of one of the most lucrative times of the reviewing year. But, after seeing a preview of the new Terminator film and allowing myself to get excited about that, I stumbled upon Maggie and I could not resist watching it. Before Arnold Schwarzenegger reclaims his famous role in the next installment of The Terminator this summer, he plays opposite Abigail Breslin in Maggie in a quiet, unsettling film that does exactly what it sets out to do.

Maggie is not a zombie film, though it has been billed as one. It is, however, set in a world where there has been an outbreak of much slower-than-usual zombie virus. Zombie films have been generally overplayed at this point, but Maggie manages to do exactly what one hopes for from a film featuring a viral apocalypse: it shows us something new and reinvents the genre in an interesting way. Maggie is a much more human-focused twist on films set in the wake of a viral apocalypse: there aren't people running, no one is cannibalizing anyone else and society still exists. For those obsessed with the genre, Maggie is the closest fans of the third season of The Walking Dead (reviewed here!) will ever get to a movie about how The Governor watched his daughter turn into a Walker. Fortunately, the protagonist in Maggie is much more likable and her father, Wade, doesn't go batshit crazy and evil like The Governor.

To get it out of the way, there is a near-fatal flaw with the conception of Maggie and it makes the first few minutes of the film virtually unwatchable. Maggie is set in a world afflicted by The Turn, a virus that spread from plants to humans (there's some funky science going on with that one!) and has wiped out most of the world's major cities. Set in the Midwestern United States, Maggie uses the setting as a chance to explore something other than the horrors of outbreak or the difficulties of survival. Unfortunately, the plot conceit it uses to do that is possibly the worst cinematic rendition of a quarantine situation of all time. Because The Turn has a slow incubation period and the government has mandated doctor check-ups for those afflicted with the disease, victims like the titular character of the film are released on their own recognizance until the virus enters one of its later stages. Once one buys the premise that the quarantine for a massive population of people who will knowingly turn into flesh-eating zombies to spread the virus is "go home and rest until it becomes an absolutely unavoidable problem," Maggie is not only fine, but it is wonderful. It's a lot to have to swallow, though (note to writer John Scott 3: a far better conceit would have been for Wade to have rescued his daughter from quarantine and relocated her to the country with his family, as opposed to simply being able to sign her out of the hospital!).

Wade lives with his family out in the Midwest, somewhat haunted by a phone call where his daughter, Maggie, has fled the relative safety of their rural farm for the city. Wade drives to the city and recovers Maggie from the city hospital, where he learns she has become infected with the Turn. Wade checks Maggie out and returns her to their house in the country, where Wade and his wife, Caroline, live with their kids. Caroline is terrified by what Maggie represents, but having Maggie at home is important to Wade and Maggie, so she opts to send the other children away until Maggie is done transforming or is cured.

Maggie spends her days avoiding calling the support hotline for people who are infected or taking calls from her friends, wandering the property. Her future is foreshadowed when she encounters a pair of zombified neighbors on the outskirts of the property and Wade has to put them down. They learn that the neighbor's wife had kept her husband and daughter locked in a room once they were infected and when the police take her away, Wade's desire to keep Maggie safe and away from the quarantine zones where people who Turn go to die comes into conflict with the local police. Maggie's condition worsens quicker than normal; she cuts off one of her fingers when it becomes necrotic and her doctor worries about her condition. Nurtured by Wade, Maggie struggles to socialize with her old friends again, including one who is infected and nearing his full Turn. Without any real hope of a cure or treatment, Wade and Maggie weigh the quality of Maggie's life against Wade losing his first daughter and all ties to his past.

Despite the set-up, Maggie is exceptionally good. On the performance front, Maggie has a lot going for it from the performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Outside being troublingly in the pocket of Big Tobacco (apparently the Hollywood ideal is still stuck on Midwesterners smoking - most of our public places are smoke free and the vaping movement is huge here! - and they assume Midwesterners are too stupid to quit smoking even when their very lives would be threatened by conditions in which diminished lung capacity would be a factor. Seriously, we're supposed to believe that Wade absolutely loves Maggie, Caroline and his whole new family, but he'd rather have a cigarette than the ability to carry any of them away away and run away from zombies should the cause arise), Schwarzenegger completely plays to his strengths as Wade. Wade is brooding, but caring; he does not speak a lot, but he emotes quite a bit with his eyes and his face. Schwarzenegger credibly makes it through the few fights his character has wonderfully, but the power of his performance in Maggie is credibly portraying a father who suspends all reason for his love of his daughter.

On the character front, that connection comes to make perfect sense. Wade and Maggie lost Wade's first wife (Maggie's mother) years ago and when she rebelliously goes off to the city, Wade feels like he is losing the last vestiges of that part of his life. Maggie's rebellious nature is quickly muted by the progression of her disease and that is treated with great realism.

Abigail Breslin plays Maggie wonderfully. Maggie is entirely different from Breslin's character in Zombieland (reviewed here!) and she plays the role with a great physical presence. Breslin credibly plays her character as upset, blind, frustrated, and animalistic. In every stage, Breslin is dead-on with her performance.

Director Henry Hobson has a powerful feature film debut with Maggie. Few films that are even zombie genre-adjacent are beautiful movies. Maggie, often, is. Despite the brutal nightmare scenes wherein Maggie recalls how she became infected, Maggie is shot beautifully and looks amazing. Henry Hobson takes a film that could be slow and plodding from the moody, cerebral take it has on making an infection film and makes it beautiful and eminently watchable. That makes it a surprising must-see film this summer!

For other works with Joely Richardson, please check out my reviews of:
Endless Love
Vampire Academy
Red Lights
Nip/Tuck - Season 1
The Affair Of The Necklace
The Storyteller


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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