By Tom Platt. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Zombies? Done. That really should be all there is to say about Maggie. Even if we walk into this movie with muted expectations (there really won’t be a single explosion?), this winning combination should be able to hold any audience… Right?
Maggie starts well after the initial zombie outbreak at a time when the world is focused on recovery through quarantine and extermination. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) plays the title character, a teenager who has somehow been bitten and is slowly turning into the dreaded Zed-word. Due to the disease’s slow 4-6 week conversion time, Maggie’s father, Arnold (freaking) Schwarzenegger, is allowed to take her home until the disease worsens, at which time he must take her to quarantine to be euthanized. While that may seem like a strange premise for a zombie flick, please remember that you’re already suspending your disbelief by allowing zombies to exist in the first place.
While the film is set in the American farmlands, the exact state of the world appears a bit muddied. Where on the one hand Arnold can drive to a functioning hospital listening to current events on NPR, later, on the drive home, he finds himself pumping gas at a deserted and looted gas station with a radio playing messages from the emergency broadcast system. Throughout the film characters display only a minor aversion to Maggie and her imminent transformation. While actual zombies do pop up every so often, this very real epidemic feels like a distant concern to a society that is supposed to be in recovery.
Combining a first time writer, a graphic designer turned director, and nineteen (!) producers leads to a lot a fingers in this 96 minute pie. The dialogue is terse, straightforward and, combined with its workmanlike direction, leaves little room available for an essential emotional intensity. In a world where survival instincts should be flaring, no one in Maggie sees a need to raise their voice or react in much of any way other than looking a bit sad. Due more so to the people in charge than to the actors’ abilities, Maggie’s dour performances would seem more at home in the Star Wars prequels, or perhaps even the Twilight trilogy.
Ignoring the performances and dialogue, the technical elements of the film are equally disappointing. The film is presented almost exclusively in overly desaturated, handheld close-ups, and, on several occasions, it’s just plain out of focus. Scenes between a father and his dying daughter rarely include a two shot, making it impossible for the audience to understand, let alone appreciate, the struggling relationship that exists between these two characters. Reactionary editing focuses on who’s speaking as opposed to who’s feeling, making it difficult to really invest in anyone.
While appreciating that these zombies were once people, friends, loved ones, the only solution provided by society is euthanasia. Quarantine serves as a holding zone where infected persons of all different stages are left to mingle together. Apparently there is a lot of eating of each other involved, which sounds more like a cannibalistic coliseum than an organized quarantine plan. Given no other options, Arnold’s doctor friend quickly offers the “cocktail” used to euthanize patients in quarantine. Apparently this method of euthanasia is unlike that of today and is excruciatingly painful to the point where this trusted doctor and friend tells Arnold it would be more merciful just to shoot his daughter.
So in the end, “It’s not a tumor!”, it’s just a lackluster zombie movie. The combo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and zombies was no match for the triple threat of inexperience, a ridiculous number of producers, and its PG-13 rating. Aside from the core concept, nothing of value escaped from this film. Sloppy makeup, aggravating camera choices, predictable music cues, and cliched writing leave the audience desperately wanting. We’re forced to watch flatlining characters without any backstory, espousing lousy dialogue in an attempt to garner sympathy for Arnold’s compassion and Maggie’s imminent death.
By no means does a zombie movie require action or explosions, and yes, a film like this has the potential to be a beautiful allegory that explores how families cope with incurable, life-threatening diseases. However, Maggie is not that film. If anything, Maggie, with its half-hearted attempts at artistry, stands as another nail in the indie-zombie apocalypse. Please, god, let it be dead.