If there’s one thing I’m really sick of, it’s motherfucking zombies. Hell, ANYTHING related to those undead fuckers is something I tend to ignore these days unless it’s a shooter party with friends on LEFT 4 DEAD 2 (which I have to say is a great way to spend some quality time with people you grew up with) because the Zombie Genre has become a shambling stereotype all on its own. You’ll always have some heavy handed message about how “Humans R EVIL” mixed with a lot of reanimated dead dudes trudging along in the background along with a nice cast filled to the brim with stereotypes (The Stern Leader, the Jesus Kid, the Nagger, the Evil Dictator, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good Zombie story when it’s well done (the 28 X LATER series being a personal favorite of mine, even if “Zombie” is used loosely there) but for the most part, Zombie stories as of late have been nothing but pretentious finger wagging lectures about how shitty mankind is, as written by a college freshman who most probably read too much Nietzsche and Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD (which is a great graphic novel series, by the way). To me, there is nearly nothing new that can be done with this genre.
Which is why taking away all those pretentious Post-Apocalyptic cliches and just leaving the story to actual human beings and not philosophers/ cynic wannabes or ideologues is the best way to spark life into the damn thing.
MAGGIE is basically what you’d get if you gave money to an independent movie director and told that guy to go make a Zombie Drama and that’s where the movie’s gains and flaws show. First of all, MAGGIE deserves praise for the subtle take on the genre. Here, things are played out more realistically so instead of throwing exploding heads at the screen or showcasing a wasteland littered with Post-Apocalyptic leather loving warlords dominating tiny pockets of humanity, we have a civilization weakly trying to get back on its feet after taking care of an epidemic that killed a fraction of the global population. Instead of being cannon fodder, the undead are most probably people you once knew or people you bought stuff from so it’s a lot harder to put them down. Think of taking the tense opening minutes of the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake (from the start up until the cast enters the mall), darken the color palette and stretch that out into an entire movie and you pretty much have the mood of MAGGIE. This amount of dread and trauma shown in the barren setting shows what potential the Zombie Genre has in the hands of mature writers and it’s a great welcome change of pace for a genre that’s been drowning in its repetitiveness.
Instead of giving the obvious “Save The World” quest to obvious action hero Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger, MAGGIE narrows its focus onto a father who knows his daughter (a role played really well by Abigail Breslin) will turn into an undead cannibal in a few weeks’ time so he does the most logical thing an onscreen dad would do… spend the last remaining days with his beloved daughter no matter how dangerous shit could get. Unlike what most other Zombie movies would do, there aren’t any epic MAD MAX style Post Apocalyptic battles or adventures to get the antidote that can cure the world; no, what MAGGIE instead shows us is a frail world slowly recovering from a really bad near-death experience. It’s a world with people accepting the harsh realities of their Post-Contagion world even if that means watching your loved ones slowly rot away.
Good setting aside, one major issue with this movie being directed by a guy with a background in Independent Cinema is the pacing. For some reason, Indie Movies always move slowly and take their time showing someone’s reaction to something like a wall. What can be said in maybe two seconds of talking is stretched out into a five minute crying scene and MAGGIE is guilty of that. There ARE some really good dramatic moments where there is close to no dialogue or when the “Zombie Kills” are only implied thus giving them more impact but the majority of the scenes shot in this Indie style take forever to finish. Don’t get me wrong I love this style of cinema and scenery but really, it doesn’t have to take this goddamned long to show how sad Abigail Breslin is. It’s been established really well in the opening minutes, there’s no need to stretch that shit for a fucking hour and dedicate the entire middle act to it.
Still on the topic of pacing and moving on to the actual nitty-gritty parts of the story, MAGGIE bogs down heavily in the middle when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character just up and disappears in the movie’s halfway point for some reason (maybe he had scheduling conflicts or something, I dunno), thus confusing the living fuck out of the poor thing as it suddenly shifts focus to Abigail Breslin’s character. Now both of their character arcs are great since you have both actors giving it their dramatic best but the problem there is that the movie doesn’t know which arc to focus on. Is MAGGIE a story about a father who’s coming to terms with his daughter’s impending death or is it about a girl who’s trying to come to terms with the fact that she’ll become an undead flesh eater? Despite having the name of Abigail Breslin’s character as its title, MAGGIE never really knows which story to focus on and because of that it sadly messes up when it clumsily tries to combine both stories before saying “Fuck it” and flings a rushed conclusion at the screen to finish shit on time. This was glaringly obvious because when Arnold Schwarzenegger finally came back onscreen, the movie ended roughly ten or twenty minutes later with a cheap-ass excuse as to why he just left the movie. That may sound like a lot of time for the characters to do shit but remember, many of the dramatic scenes are shot Indie style so that means a dinner scene can last forever.
MAGGIE is not the best Zombie Drama ever made but it’s definitely a worthy addition to a genre marred by the most repetitive of cliches and tropes. I was expecting to go out of the cinema with a bunch of new Ah-Nuld jokes to tell my friends but instead I left the movie both satisfied yet still slightly disappointed. Satisfied because not only did MAGGIE present a new take on those undead fuckers but it was also a good place to showcase Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting improvements; from being an emotionless murder robot from the future he has now become a relatable but still (mostly) emotionless Sad Dad. Yet I was slightly disappointed because this movie could’ve been so much better if only the writing was tighter than it was and if things got were a lot more focused.
If you’re like me and tired of getting scolded for being a human by a story obviously written by a non-human god-tier warlock from the Gates of Heaven, do check out MAGGIE but don’t expect it to break all kinds of records in its path. It’s a decent surprise from a genre that shat itself to boredom but it’s also something that may end up being forgotten when more superior examples of the genre (hopefully) crop up in later years.