Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Maggie: the least “zombie” zombie movie I’ve ever seen.

I finally caught “Maggie” on Netflix this weekend. I’d seen the trailer and was excited to see this film about a father protecting his infected daughter as she slowly transformed into a zombie. The concept of Schwarzenegger in a zombie flick intrigued me, and I’ve always liked Abigail Breslin. What could go wrong?

Sadly, this is another case of the trailer being way cooler than the actual movie. If it looks to you like Arnie fights the authorities to protect his daughter while searching for a cure, you’d be dead wrong. False advertising people! Hats off to whomever made the trailer though. It really pulled me in.

“Maggie” is the least “zombie” of any zombie movie I’ve seen. So if you’re looking for zombie staples such as ghoulish scares or disturbing gore, this is not your film. “Maggie” has more in common with terminally-ill dramas like “A Fault In Our Stars” than “The Walking Dead”.

What compelled me to write this review was that I saw a lot of potential in this film to be better, but for whatever reason the writers took it in a different direction. Mostly, I felt there wasn’t enough conflict. Conflict is the meat of any story because it keeps the audience asking “what the hell is he gonna do now?”

Without this sort of conflict, “Maggie” feels very slow. The zombies are slow, the virus is slow (it takes weeks to turn into a zombie), and it’s pacing is the slowest of all. I laughed afterwards when I realized that “Maggie” was the extreme opposite of the frenetic world of “World War Z” where victims are transformed into raging, running (sprinting! leaping!) cannibals in a matter of seconds. Maggie would’ve been toast long ago if her dad was Brad Pitt.

While the specter of Maggie’s inevitable death hangs over every scene like a black stain, instead of pathos I felt mostly boredom. The film had little to say about mortality, regret, growing up, or a father’s love for his daughter – themes that just cry out to be addressed in a story like this. Instead it seemed to just plod along from one scene to another, reaching its final, foregone conclusion in a way that ended the film too quickly.

Overall, I think the screenplay was weakened because it eschewed some basic fundamentals of story structure.

No setup = I don’t care

I didn’t like how there was no real set-up of the characters. We don’t know who they are, or what they want. The fact that we’re unsure exactly when Maggie got bitten tells us the director preferred mood over plot. While it made the film appropriately dark and foreboding, it also made things a little confusing. Why did Maggie flee to the city? When she was forced to come back, why didn’t she just leave again? These are important questions that aren’t answered effectively, and they made me not understand or care about the characters.

Show me the zombies!

Having Maggie’s attack happen off-screen was a poor choice. It’s eluded to in flashbacks only, and it made me not care about Maggie because I didn’t experience it with her. That bite was the pivotal incident that set off the whole story: Maggie’s journey towards death. Make it dramatic! Let me see her get bit! Maybe show a zombie or two? I might actually care for her if I feel her pain and fear.

More meaty bits

I also thought there should be more conflict overall, which would have given the story more ‘meat’. For example, in the scene where Arnie finds Maggie in the hospital after searching for her for weeks, they just hug and head home. If I were him, I’d be pissed! “Where the hell you been, Maggie?!” [said in a thick Austrian....uh I mean Midwestern accent.] There were other ample opportunities for conflict.  Conflict with the authorities, with the step-mom, between Arnie and Maggie...all these potential conflicts (read: interesting bits) were way too understated.

The Ar-nuld factor

And sadly, when you have Arnie in the film, pretending he’s a Midwest farmer who inexplicably has a deep Austrian accent, you can’t help but expect him to pull a gun or start busting some skulls, zombie or otherwise. Casting Schwarzenegger, while interesting, really took me out of the film. It’s like having Jim Carrey in a dramatic roll; you keep thinking he’ll go all “Dumb and Dumber” at any moment and do something wacky.

As is stands, “Maggie” is a moody, visually compelling film, but it’s a poor zombie film. I'm all for experimenting and pushing the genre, but at least throw in some zombies into this zombie movie! 

Based on the trailer, here's how I thought the film would play out: Arnie's a father unable to let his daughter go. He’s so obsessed with her safety (because she reminds him of her mother), Arnie hides her from the authorities, keeping her at home at all costs, until it costs him everything – his friends, his step-family, his sanity. Then when the cops drag Maggie to quarantine, Arnie storms the fort and busts some heads in a tense escape. At the end when Maggie turns, Arnie has to finally let her go and put her down. Cue the tears people!

Epilogue: In the final scenes of the movie, Arnie gets bitten and slowly turns into a zombie. As he breathes his final breath, he whispers in his Austrian/Midwestern accent:

"Uh'll be bawk."

Ok. I didn't get that from the trailer. But it would've been awesome if they put that in! :)

Stay tuned for more Heroes Rising news, and I'll be posting some of my rough thumbnails for the new pages of issue #1!

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