Reviewing Maggie: Schwarzenegger acts, Maggie Muses, Zombies Zombify

Maggie SchwarzeneggerSomehow or other I managed to remain entirely ignorant about the existence of Maggie until I was confronted with it in my local DVD store. The worn and tired face of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Blu-Ray cover of a zombie film I’d never heard of was more than a little surprising. How had this happened? As a child, when other children were investing in the merchandise surrounding various films about dinosaurs and Disney characters, I was thoroughly obsessed with the oeuvre of this Austrian super star. I’m a lot older now, but I still can’t imagine how this one slipped through the cracks…

Or maybe I can. You see, this is probably the first film in the last 35 years that features Arnold Schwarzenegger but is NOT an ‘Arnie’ movie. Instead, this is a relatively subtle glance at a family dealing with the inevitable approach of death. Abigail Breslin takes the lead as Maggie, a young teenager who has run away from home in a world ravaged by a disease that turns its victims into zombies… slowly. When Maggie’s father (Schwarzenegger) finds her in a hospital, he discovers that she has been bitten, and will soon become one of the undead. He brings his daughter home to live out the remaining weeks of her life.

The film’s narrative, so far as it goes, then centres on these two characters. Maggie attempts to emotionally prepare for death while trying to fit in with friends, reacquaint herself with her ex-boyfriend, deal with the awkward affection of her step-mother, all while her body changes and begins to revolt against her. In short, the film provides an interesting take on horror’s tradition of creating parallels between body-horror and the onset of adolescence. Meanwhile, the Schwarzenegger character must deal with the reality that his daughter is disintegrating, and that killing Maggie may become the only humane option.

Maggie Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin

Henry Hobson, whose career has largely been focused on developing film title sequences up to this point, is clearly heavily influenced by Terrence Malick. He is far less concerned with narrative than with the emotional weight that hangs over his characters. And like Malick, he attempts to convey this by using gorgeous hand-held cinematography to juxtapose his character’s powerful internal conflicts with the vast and awesome weight of the natural world. These are people whose problems are small in the context of the wider world, but this only makes their struggles lonelier and more effective. But much like in some of Malick’s more recent efforts, Hobson does not know exactly when to call it quits, and there are times when the film seems to stretch beyond the weight of its material. Thankfully, a short running time makes these instances forgivable.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well, it would be easy to over-praise his performance, and some critics probably have. But this is certainly the most layered performance Schwarzenegger has ever delivered. As a father dealing with the most lonely decision in the world, he is entirely convincing from start to finish.

But Hobson finds himself in a difficult spot. The presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his film has garnered Maggie more attention than it would otherwise have received, but it has also placed the film in a precarious position. Critics, expecting a traditional Schwarzenegger movie have been suitably surprised by the weight of his performance, while dismissing the film itself for not meeting the expectations that his presence suggests. Meanwhile, fans are likely to feel thoroughly disappointed if they expect either a Schwarzenegger action film, or a zombie-laden horror movie. But if you can set all preconceptions aside, this is 90 minutes well spent.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

17 thoughts on “Reviewing Maggie: Schwarzenegger acts, Maggie Muses, Zombies Zombify

  1. The very concept of a Terrence Malick-influenced zombie movie alone intrigues me. Add Arnie in actor mode – as opposed to movie star mode – and I’m hooked.
    Straight to DVD here in the Great South Land… oh well, no room for this and Germinator Tenysis, right?

  2. DVD added to Netflix queue. Thanks! I think I vaguely remember hearing something about this, but for some reason never did follow up. Maybe I saw it in the Onion or something and dismissed it…

  3. After witnessing Schwarzenegger’s magnificent, seminal performance in “Hercules in New York,” I was convinced he was a great actor. Subsequent roles in masterpieces such as “Conan the Destroyer” and “The Last Action Hero” reaffirmed my … ah, just kidding. 😀

    But seriously, James, you’ve generated another well-written article here. When used well, the former Governator can be quite effective. I have to confess, however, that I’m a little weary of zombie movies. Aren’t there any other movie monsters that we can mine more frequently to carry a serious story? What about ghouls? Aren’t ghouls underused?

    I guess if Schwarzenegger wanted to flaunt his acting chops, this would be a good vehicle to do it in. But … I just wish it didn’t have to do with zombies. 🙁

  4. Nice review James. I’m really looking forward to this one. I feel like Maggie may be for Arnold what Copland was for Sly. A movie surprising people by taking them somewhere they don’t expect to find themselves with that particular movie star.

  5. ‘Schwarzenegger acts’. I’m still recovering from that headline…

    Happy to take your word for it James, and I had also never heard of this film. If the big man is going to start acting after all this time, I am going to have to re-think a great many preconceptions.
    I’m getting a headache now.

    Best wishes as always, Pete.

  6. It looks like an interesting film, Jim. Arnie has always had a little more depth than he’s given credit for. He was great in Twins and more likeable/believeable than Vin Diesel as an in loco parentis figure.

  7. I haven’t seen this yet, James. I’m not sure it was ever theatrically released here. But what you say about Arnold intrigues me. I thought he was pretty much the only thing worth watching in the new Terminator. I’ve always credited him with being far better at picking smart material than actually being able to act, but as he ages, I think he may be revealing more range and subtlety than I thought he was capable of.

    • Hey Jon. Same here – it just popped up in blu-Ray one day.

      I think that’s true, he’s always known his limitations and worked accordingly. He’s definitely stretching his legs here, though…

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