Ginger Nuts of Horror
If you had told me a year ago, that I would be praising a film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger for it's acting subtly and compassionate filmmaking I would have seriously considered having you sectioned under the mental health act. Yet here I am in the aftermath of watching Schwarzenegger versus zombies and I am in shock. Any misconceptions any of you have going into this film put them aside and give the film a spin you might just be as surprised as I was.....
Maggie first and foremost is a strong character driven film that uses the zombie metaphor to take a strong look at the human condition, in particular, the roles of parenthood and the need to protect our children and to know when to finally let go are put under the microscope.
Schwarzenegger plays wade a farmer and loving father, whose daughter has been infected with a zombie-like virus, but unlike nearly every other zombie film this world hasn't gone all to hell. The infection process is a slow and gradual one with different stages, the final stage resulting in a more typical zombie. While the filmmakers don't really develop the science behind the virus, it is a real pleasure to have a zombie film that at least attempts to portray an outbreak in believable manner. As much as I love films like the Day of the Dead I have always had a problem with the end of life as we know it sort of outcome of these films.
More importantly, it allows the film to take a much more human approach to the genre. Maggie is a film that is not so much about what would you do in a zombie infected world? But more about how far would you go for one of your children, the zombie virus is clearly a metaphor for any number of fatal conditions. Through the use of tight direction, downbeat cinematography and some excellent acting from Schwarzenegger Abigail Breslin Maggie manages to have more heart and depth than most so called family dramas such as Lorenzio's Oil or Beaches. It is as though the fact that we know the final outcome of the film isn't just death, but an undeath of zombification and loss of all emotions that it manages to resist the downward spiral into schmaltz that is so often the bane of these types of films.
Schwarzenegger is a revelation, while his acting will never win him an Oscar, his performance here is totally devoid of all his usual gurning and overacting. He delivers a subtle heartfelt performance that tugs on the heart strings. You end up casting aside all the misconceptions of him and become fully immersed in his struggle with promising to protect his daughter and doing what really needs to be done. It is only when a pair of fully zombiefied people make an appearance that we get even the slightest hint of the Schwarzenegger of old. It's a clever move, up until that point we are not sure if he can do the right thing, but it is one thing to kill a stranger and a totally different thing to kill your daughter. You feel his pain, should he just put a bullet in her and give her the more painless way out or should he hold on to what he loves the most and only put her out of her misery once she reaches the final stages of infection?
The film itself is pretty much devoid of any action or what horror fans would traditionally call scares. The chills come from a much more subtle place. Two scenes in particular stand out, the first of which is where maggie meets some of her friends, the tension leading up to the scenes conclusion is palpable, and the viewer is left there wondering how it will play out. The second one is between Maggie and her stepmother, Maggie makes a comment about her father cooking something, and when the penny drops as to the significance of this your heart will drop as well. It is a very clever scene that shows perfectly that real horror doesn't come from a swathe of blood and viscera, but from the subtle implied horror of a simple phrase or look.
The film's pastel grey colour scheme and excellent soundtrack add layers to films downbeat tone. In particular the opening scene of Schwarzenegger driving into the city to pick up his daughter is pitch perfect, the long continuous shot of him driving is hypnotic and is an excellent introduction to one of the most surprising films of the year.
Maggie is without a doubt one of the highlights of this years horror films. A clever, intelligent film that breaks out of the restraints and cliches of the genre. It is the sort of film to show to your friends who claim to not like horror. Deeply moving, deeply affectionMaggie will challenge your preconceptions of both zombie films and Schwarzenegger .
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