Maggie is a great 2015 indie film, casting Arnold Schwarzenegger against type. Set in a post apocalyptic zombie world a father takes responsibility for his terminally ill daughter who was bitten, played excellently by Abigail Breslin. This movie will emotionally haunt you afterwards thanks to Breslin’s talent. The film has some excellent scenes and builds tension superbly and acting from the supporting cast is fantastic, far better than your typical indie film.
But the real question on everyone’s mind is how is Arnold in this role? Quite good actually. Even the most staunch Arnold fan wouldn’t claim that he is a versatile actor but he has some great traits that fit nicely in this film; charisma, confidence, grit, and strength all best described as a kind of stoicism. Exactly what you would expect of a farmer. But what you haven’t seen much of Arnold before is him being caring and loving and he pulls this off reasonably well. It takes a keen eye to spot but it fits his character,this role is written well for him.
That being said this film may not be for everyone. Slow at times, imagine the Walking Dead scenes were the character was bitten but the death stretched out, much, much longer. But doing this actually makes it much more painful, its easier to shoot someone in the head and be done with it but this film makes you feel for Maggie and her father. Viewers who can’t stand Arnold as an actor may not like this film either as he is very subtle in this role and a lot of people will gloss over his performance. But if you’re like me and can dig something different and are intrigued with idea of Arnold being something other than an action hero, then this film is for you. Because Arnold hits his mark.
Maggie Plot and Characters
Arnold plays Wade, a stoic Midwest farmer who has found his daughter in the chaos of the zombie apocalypse, but it is too late. She has turned up in a quarantine hospital for the infected. The zombie apocalypse was averted and some semblance of government is in effect, both on the federal and state levels. Hospitals are open and utilities are just barely working but it is all still very tenuous, society could slip back into chaos. Wade goes to get his daughter Maggie despite all of the dangers of the infection and people’s fear of the infected. He loves her and wants her last days to be as good as they can, just as with any good father, he wants the best for her. Her suffering is his own.
What makes this film so different from other zombie films is the speed of infection. Where 28 Days Later has the infection taking over a person as fast as say a sprinting zombie, this film is terribly slow, painfully slow. It makes the Walking Dead’s infection look like …. well a sprinting zombie. It takes several weeks for a person to turn. In many ways the film is more like a family dealing with a with a terminal illness. Something like your mother coming home and telling you she has cancer and slowly seeing her body betray her and everyone being powerless to stop it. Maggie is slowly but inevitably turning into a zombie and she will be a threat to all those around her. Wade’s responsibility was to find her but after he takes her into custody he must be the one to eventually deal with her. To see that she comes to a humane end.
In an excellent scene Maggie, when playing outside as any child would, she falls and breaks a finger, normally it would heal but with Maggie’s condition it immediately starts to rot and die as her body starts to betray her. She is helpless to stop this and in a fit of frustration she lops her finger off with a nearby knife, as if to separate herself from the infection that is slowly but inevitable claiming her childhood innocence. Breslin sales this so perfectly that you feel touched and you will be haunted by it and many other scenes like this. Breslin is such an anchor of this film, everyone else plays off of her exceptional performance through out.
Arnold during this exam is also exceptionally wonderful but much more subtle. As you might expect a Midwest father or any conservative person to be, Wade is very stoic. Arnold’s performance isn’t about big flourishes of emotions, just little hints of what Maggie’s terminal illness is doing to him, killing him on the inside. In the check up scene with the doctor you see such an array of emotions conflicting inside Wade, all just beneath the surface. Fear, anxiety, worry, and above all else love for his daughter all being masked with face that tries to reassure his daughter. Arnold is no Shakespearean actor but he is perfect as a Midwest farmer dealing with the slow death of his daughter. It fits him perfectly.
Her sickness is progressing quickly and In private the doctor lays it all out plainly for Wade. “She’ll lose her appetite, then her sense of smell will be heightened, then she’ll crave something else … …” Wade can administer a drug that will kill Mag quickly but painfully, sparing him the anguish of having to kill her but knowing she’ll suffer. He could take her to quarantine where her remaining days will be inhumane and terrible and ignore it all. Or he can do as the doctor recommends “end it quickly.” Implying a gunshot to the head.
This is where the movie shines. Wade realizes all of this and continues regardless of the risks. Her skin shows signs of rot and is flaking off, maggots start to appear near the bite wound. Her eyes fog over and her voice takes on the rasping breathing of someone who is close to death. A raspy death rattle of a voice letting it be known not much time is left. All the while Maggie is still mobile and cognizant, she is still just a frightened little girl. This is where that farmer stoicism factors in so well. Arnold betrays no vulnerabilities, no remorse, he has a job to do. He must ensure that his daughter can live as long as she can, to hold on to being an innocent child just a little longer. If Wade should falter and show signs of grief it will hurt Maggie, she will read it in his eyes. Wade must be brave on two fronts, he’s got to shield her from this pain but he also has to keep the world from coming for her.
Tension and Climax
The film builds tension expertly as Maggie’s sickness continues and Wade is confronted by the police about Maggie’s condition having gone too far. She should be dealt with says the police. This is where Arnold’s natural gifts of being confident come in. So many great actors in Hollywood fake this kind of confidence but you don’t doubt for a moment that Wade will do anything to give his daughter just a little more time to live. Wade knows the implications of standing up to the police and allowing Maggie to progress so dangerously to the edge of being a zombie. But he does it anyway, out of love. It is at this moment that Wade’s stoicism makes sense, not only is he doing this for his daughter that he loves, he’ll do it despite the cost. Wade is the kind of person that will march into hell for love, he is Orpheus. Such strength being paired with love is so rare in film. Arnold’s strength and confidence in this confrontation punctuates and adds the necessary exclamation mark to the climax and the ending of the film. Without it, the film would’ve suffered for it.
But in the end Maggie’s change is unstoppable and Wade must make the final choice. He doesn’t skate out on his responsibilities but the film’s plot does end on a cheap note and a great opportunity is missed. Without giving too much away the ending is still strong but could’ve been better considering the excellent build up and tension but despite this the film ends reasonably well.
The film is heart-wrenching and enjoyable story. It’s a bit slow at times in the middle as it tries to build bonds between Maggie and her family and friends. Though Arnold’s performance was really good it would’ve been nice to see him slip and show more signs of pain and anguish when Maggie wasn’t around. Perhaps confiding in the doctor or friends, humanizing Wade more. The rookie director Henry Hobson does an incredible job of building tension and setting up great shots to tell stories without words. And I look forward to seeing future work from him. But Hobson is at times a little too slavish to the use of dark, low light scenes to set the grim mood at detriment to the mechanics of the scenes. Especially considering the subtlety of Arnold’s acting. But despite this the film as a whole is rather excellent, a great example of an indie film and the kind of acting Arnold can do when put in the right situation. Zombie fans, Arnold fans, and people who just plain like good old fashioned tension and drama will enjoy the film.