AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 85 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the present-day American Midwest, society struggles to function in the aftermath of a zombie pandemic barely under control. Maggie Vogel calls her father Wade from a broken city under curfew; her voicemail urges that he not seek her and that she loves him. Her arm was bitten and, knowing she has only weeks before the “necroambulist virus” turns her cannibalistic, she left home to protect her family. Despite her warning, Wade finds her and brings her home, locking himself in with her. Her condition gets progressively worse, and a doctor warns Wade that he has three options: she can be quarantined, which Wade refuses; Wade can administer at home the same euthanasia injection offered in quarantine; or Wade can “make it quick” himself….
Though Horror Cult Films was formed in part because we all had similar tastes in movies, there’s no doubt that we do often differ about certain films. I think that the person on here with whom I tend to agree with most is our webmistress Bat, so much so that I not only think that I can tell if she will like a film before she’s seen it, but also think I can tell if she will like a film even before I’ve seen it, and I reckon the opposite is true as well! However, there are times when we do differ in our views. I remember reading her rather unimpressed review of the original Poltergeist with near-astonishment, because I love the movie and said as much I my own write-up on the film when I reviewed the whole series. A few days ago she posted a positive review of Vampyres Lesbos, a film I thought [like most of Jess Franco’s work that I’ve seen] was terrible, though it was around fifteen years ago when I saw it and tastes do change so I may give it another go soon! And now we have Maggie, which Bat seemed to be a bit bored with, and she’s definitely not alone. However, I rather enjoyed it, hence the reason for my first Alternative Review in ages!
Now there’s no doubt that the filmmakers were asking for a bit of trouble with Maggie. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and zombies, and one thinks of an action/horror movie hybrid with the Austrian Oak bloodily dispatching undead hordes. Instead, director Henry Hobson and writer John Scott 3, both debuting in those roles, give us a sombre, slow paced drama featuring a small number of characters, and an Arnie who only kills three zombies. Three zombies?! Small wonder that many people have been disappointed with the film, and, though I was surprised by this at the time [maybe I shouldn’t have been, because Arnie’s much touted multi-film comeback has mostly resulted in a series of flops], I can now understand why it got a limited cinema release in the UK, so much so that, being that I live in a town where its two multiplexes show exactly the same films, I didn’t get to see it till last night on Blu-ray. Pretty much knowing what I’d let myself in for, I let myself be sucked into its story, and….well, the term “had a good time” isn’t really appropriate for a film that’s about a teenager dying….but I certainly found some enjoyment from the piece, and also found it a much more stylish work than I feel many gave it credit for. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if the film hadn’t featured Arnie, it may have been more appreciated. It would certainly have been more appreciated if it had been subtitled, as it really does feel like an attempt at a European-style art house film at times.
The early scenes give a strong impression of a world in turmoil and do somewhat wrong-foot the viewer. An early montage of quick shots of wounded in a hospital has an especially strong effect, though the tone is already quite low-key, something enhanced by the dark photography of Lucas Ettlin which really does set a grim mood with its grayish palette, and the ambient score from David Wingo. Soon the action mostly confines itself to a house, the same house actually that was in the final quarter of Looper, as Wade Vogel decides that, against protocol, he will care for his daughter at home. Now the film misses a chance for drama here, as it seems that people are illegally looking after their injected in homes all around, and there’s no question as to what Wade will do. The idea of the film would have had greater power if Wade was the only one doing what he’s doing. The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2011 Blacklist; a list of the “most liked” unmade scripts of the year, though judging by a couple of the films made from screenplays on this list, quality wasn’t really a prerequisite, and the screenplay for Maggie does undeniably have its issues in the way it fails to totally do its premise justice, and it would have probably have benefitted from a touch-up.
Nonetheless, I found Maggie compelling enough, as Wade first drives his other two children to safety, then wakes up one morning to find even his wife Caroline, Maggie’s stepmother, gone. Maggie gradually becomes more and more zombie-like, and we are sometimes asked to question whether Wade is doing the right thing. There is the occasional encounter with other zombies, one of them featuring a genuinely creepy child zombie in a film where the limited makeup and effects work is of quite a high standard. However, the general tone is melancholy and even morbid [rarely a good sell] as the inevitable seems to loom, though things play out in a slightly different way than expected. Melodramatics are mostly avoided, keeping things oddly tranquil. There’s a pointed sequence where Maggie goes to an outdoor party with her friends, and most, though not all, of them seem to be in differing stages of disintegration, yet they’re all treated normally. The film, which in a way didn’t need to set in a world of zombies at all, seems to be saying that the best way to treat the sick may be to treat them more like healthy people, though it doesn’t blindly adopt that viewpoint and reminds us that there are no easy answers on the subject.
All this is shot in quite an intriguing way, the visuals often being dim but still often possessing a certain beauty, while light does sometimes stream in beautifully, like two gorgeous ‘magic hour’ scenes, which, along with a moment where Wade runs his hand along the tips of blades of grass, plus the almost elliptical editing and wild camerawork of some scenes, feels as if Hobson and Ettlin have been looking to a certain Terence Malick for inspiration, an absurdly high aim it’s true, but a praise-worthy one if you’re one of that filmmaker’s many fans like me. Editor Jane Rizzo also deserves praise for the way some scenes have been put together. One very effective usage of cutting back and forth from two moments employing different styles of filming is when Caroline is in the kitchen slicing carrots, the film constantly cutting to Maggie being shown in slow motion, and in distress, on the swing in the garden. There’s a great deal of handheld filming, and as soon as I realised this I was expecting the worst considering that it wasn’t that long ago when I suffered through Suffragette, but actually the camerawork is reasonably steady and avoids full-blown shakycam, and shows that this style that be employed with some skill and achieve a sense of intimacy without making the viewer either feel sick or feel like they’re being pressed against cast member’s faces.
Chloë Grace Moretz and Paddy Considine were originally going to star in this, and they would have both been excellent, but I’m glad Abigail Breslin and Arnie did the film instead. Breslin movingly plays someone who is dying before they’ve had a chance to experience life, while the praise surrounding Arnie’s performance is totally justified, being very quietly powerful. One scene where he talks of his dead wife is probably the best piece of acting he’s ever done. Maggie could definitely have been improved. It would have benefitted from more tension, for a start, while the ending didn’t move me [and I can be a total cry baby at movies] as well as it ought to have done. It’s almost too restrained, though it is rather haunting in its melancholic way. Nonetheless, it’s a uniquely odd exercise which says important things about human character, and which tells us that we should savour every moment. I’m very intrigued to see what Hobson does next. Given a script that totally fulfils its potential, I have the feeling that he could create something quite special.
Check out Bat’s review of Maggie here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2015/11/maggie-2015/