After being infected by a zombie virus, a runaway girl is brought back to her rural home by her adoring, protective father. What unfolds is not the usual bar-your-doors-here-come-the-monsters gorefest, but an examination of a loving father and daughter facing her death.
And the father is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that’s a good thing.
The interesting but flawed Maggie is billed as a horror film, but it’s really more an indie drama with horror elements. The body count is very low; the cataclysmic plague is simply background. The focus is squarely on the father-daughter relationship.
The most surprising thing about the film is that the acting is its strength. Schwarzenegger gives what is clearly the best performance of his long career as the soft-spoken farmer facing his daughter’s inevitable decline. There is calm and warmth in his acting that is unlike the rest of his oeuvre. His emotional moments are low key and earned, such as when he comes upon the evidence of another father and daughter’s struggle that clearly foreshadows what’s to come for him and Maggie.
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Although he does get to kick some butt, this is simply not that kind of movie, nor that kind of role. It’s a part you’d expect John Hawkes or Kevin Costner to play, yet Schwarzenegger pulls it off.
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) plays the infected daughter. Her performance seems unsettled at first, but it doesn’t take long for Breslin to sink into Maggie’s (rotting) skin, aided by some fine makeup work. Her most effective moments come when the teen faces the inescapability of her death.
The directorial debut feature from graphics and titles designer Henry Hobson is heavy on the atmosphere — often too heavy. The rural setting is so draped in shadow and blown-out contrast that the film is sometimes literally hard to watch. The use of music is overzealous as well, a weighty hand directing the viewer’s emotions. The lugubrious pacing, atypical for the genre, works at times and simply drags at others.
The first produced script by John Scott 3 was on the Black List — the annual collection of unmade screenplays “most liked” by Hollywood executives — and continues that distinction’s uneven record, or rather its record of uneven work.
Although original in its approach, the story resorts to a number of tropes to convey exposition or provide fingernail sketches of characters and relationships. Important information is left out — Why did Maggie run away? What exactly happens to set up the final sequence (that is, what is the fate of one of the main characters?) — which can be an invigorating challenge to an audience, but here feels like spotty storytelling.
Despite the novel premise and the strong acting — yes, strong acting in a Schwarzenegger movie! — Maggie simply doesn’t take root. That’s sad to admit, because it’s the kind of film one wished were better.
Exclusive: AMC Grapevine Mills
Director: Henry Hobson
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin
Rated: PG-13 (disturbing thematic material including bloody images, and some strong language)
Running time: 95 min.