Don't get me wrong, I get as big as a kick out of The Expendables movies as the next guy, and I really enjoyed the throwback action charms of Escape Plan and The Last Stand, but somehow the Austrian Oak hasn't brought in the cinema attendances that he used to.
I was greatly impressed by his 'serious acting' turn in Sabotage and it made me want to see more of this side of him.
Elsewhere, unless you've been living under a rock, you can't help but notice that AMC's The Walking Dead has caused a huge surge in interest in intelligent, character-driven zombie movies.
Which leads me to Maggie. Arnie takes on an emotionally charged and complex role in a zombie flick.
Early word of mouth is that THIS is the movie that will cause Schwarzenegger's star to shine once again.
So can he show the sort of depth that such a pathos filled story demands?
Dir: Henry Hobson
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers, Carsen Flowers, Jodie Moore, Douglas M Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Bryce Romero, Raeden Greer, Rachel Whitman Groves, Laura Cayouette
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.
The world has fallen prey to a deadly epidemic, the Necroambulist Virus. People are contracting the disease and slowly but surely turning into ravenous, rotting undead. Once the disease has taken hold, there is no cure. To make matters worse there has been a bear catastrophic crop failure — the implication being that whatever has caused flesh to go bad is so virulent that it has spoiled the earth itself. The authorities have got control of the situation but the number of infected is still causing a huge demand on resources. As such, individuals with the disease are processed into horrific quarantine pens where their last few days are certain to end in agonising misery.
Maggie (Breslin) is a teenage girl who has contracted the virus. The movie opens with her father, Wade (Schwarzenegger) walking into a quarantine unit and taking charge of her. It seems that local doctor and family friend Vern (Moore) has pulled some strings to allow Wade to take Maggie home to spend some time with her family before the end.
Upon getting back to the house we see her half-brother Bobby and half-sister Molly (the Flowers siblings) bid her a sad farewell before they head off to live with their aunt. Quite understandably, Maggie's step-mother Caroline (Richardson) is concerned for their well-being but still wants to be there for her husband and the girl she has raised as her own in the tough times ahead.
Caroline isn't the only one to have her reservations, it soon becomes obvious that decent but frightened local lawmen Ray (Griffin) and Holt (Evermore) aren't pleased at the thought of a walking biological hazard in the community either.
What follows is a slow, in depth look at Maggie's life as she draws ever closer to what scientists call The Turn, dealing with both physical and emotional trials. As time passes and she reunites with key figures from her past including best friend Allie (Greer) and former boyfriend and fellow infected Trent (Romero), it becomes all too clear that she has no future.
But what will Wade do when his little girl is lost to him for ever? Will he allow the authorities to take her away? Can he bring himself to end her suffering? Or will he endanger his life and those of the people around him through his undying father's love?
THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Perhaps the best thing I can say about Maggie is that it is nothing like I imagined it would be. When you imagine a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger you can't help but picture a campy, high-octane, blood, brains 'n' bullets action romp.
Maggie is not that film.
This is first and foremost, a character study. It is barely a zombie film if the truth be told. A couple of heart-stopping encounters aside, there is very little on the way of cranium splattering undead hordes. Much like the Necroambulist virus itself with its six-to-eight-week incubation period, this is a film and story prepared to move at a slower pace than a lot of zombie horror movies.
It could be seen as something of a gamble casting Arnie in such a serious and demanding role, but a couple of clunky line deliveries aside, he is mostly up to the task of portraying the terrible turmoil his character is feeling. I think that casting Schwarzenegger was actually a very intelligent move. Lately his roles have openly acknowledged his age, and I can see some very good reasons behind this. Aside from the obvious (the visual signs of ageing are becoming increasingly difficult to hide), it's also worth looking at the big man's fans, among whose number I definitely consider myself. When he was at the height of his action mega star fame, we were teens and young men, drawn to his no-nonsense ass kicking. Now we've all aged ourselves, settling down, starting families and even perhaps losing some of our youthful energy. In taking roles in which Arnie reflects these changes we can still relate to him. Let today's youth have their new generation of free-running, flying roundhouse kicking action stars, us old-timers are more than happy to stick with creaky but still talented mountains of manly muscle such as Schwarzenegger and his peer Sylvester Stallone.
The rest of the cast are uniformly superb, but special praise must go to the excellent Moore as Dr Vern, the likeable and personable realist who is tasked with reminding Wade of the true ramifications of failing to act. He also serves to dish up exposition here and there, yet the film never falters as he does. The young Flowers children are surprisingly accomplished for such tender years and both Romero and Whitman Groves who each carry sizeable sub-plots on their shoulders. I also liked the dynamic that Evermore brought to the production, a fiery man of action amidst a cast of introspective and subdued characters.
However, the best performance comes from brilliant Oscar nominee Breslin. She should already be familiar to genre fans for her roles in Zombieland, Haunter and TV's Scream Queens, and for good reason — she is a revelation. Her chemistry with Schwarzenegger is astonishing and she is capable of portraying complex emotional processes with the subtlest of gestures, expressions and changes in posture or intonation. She really is the star of this film.
This is Henry Hobson's first feature directing gig and it is an impressive debut. He gives the plot plenty of time to breathe, yet tells its tragic story in a way that grips the viewer as it inexorably leads to the gut-wrenching climax.
The film is visually stunning, too. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin gives the movie a washed out look, echoing the deathly pallor of the title character and there are some shots (such as one in which Shwarzenegger stands in silhouette against a field of flaming crops) that are framed in a way that is quite frankly beautiful.
There are interesting sub-plots along the way, especially those of Maggie's ex boyfriend and fellow infected Trent (Romero) plus Whitmore Groves' bereaved neighbour with an axe to grind, but at its heart this is a film about a father and his daughter. Yes, Maggie shares some very touching scenes with other characters (especially a scene in which she says goodbye to the excellent Greer's Abbie and so much goes unsaid) but THIS is where the weight of John Scott 3's story lies. It is on the success of this dynamic that the whole film hangs. With some superb performances to anchor this plot point, luckily this is the strongest part of the film and utterly captures the attention of the audience, getting us to invest emotionally in the characters and their fate.
Saying this is a sad film might be an understatement. A warning to parents: this hits hard and doesn't relent. I've never seen a cinema as morosely silent at the end of a film as I did when Maggie's credits started to roll. It is not a date movie, but it is incredibly powerful, thought-provoking and very, very moving.
THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warner): Calling Maggie slowburn is a little like calling the Sahara desert a bit warm. It moves at a VERY slow pace, taking the time to tell its story and fully flesh out its characters, their motivations and the world in which it is set. I admire this patient and thorough storytelling, but if you were after some Zombieland or Dawn of the Dead '04-style thrills, spills, blood and one-liners, this is most certainly not your film.
Equally, if you're the kind of zombie fan who thrills to buckets of gore and meaty wounds of Zombie Flesh Eaters, move along. It has a very low body count, with a couple of ouchy moments but this isn't a flick made to please the gorehounds. If you don't have the patience for a film which is a lot more about emotions than eviscerations, you may well find Maggie extremely tedious. Be warned.
Also, while I praised the fact that the characters were well-realised, not all of them get the arcs or perhaps the screen time that they deserve. Richardson is especially hard done-by, her arc ending very abruptly, and it feels a little like she may have had scenes that have been left on the editing room floor. Don't get me wrong, she does an absolutely tremendous job with what she has, making what could have been an unlikeable character sympathetic and well-nuanced, but I wish we could have seen more.
I'd also have liked to see a little more detailing the attack in which Maggie contracted the virus, although the nightmarish flash-cuts we get to that moment are truly horrifying.
Also, I do question how rewatchable the film is. It's extremely depressing and emotionally draining, so I can't imagine it's a flick to which many people will choose to subject themselves for a second helping. The story is very linear, with little in the way of shocks, twists or surprises, so I can see little reward for giving it another spin.
THE VERDICT: Every now and then a film comes along that utterly restores your faith in the way that Hollywood views our beloved genre. Forget about contemptible derivative bollocks like the umpteenth pretty-teen Found Footage, 15 Cert crap-fest you'll find every other week at the cinema; Maggie shows that filmmakers with real vision and a daring willingness to contradict and confound expectations are on the scene. Not only are they out there, but they're packing enough clout to attract big names and production values to Horror. I can't tell you how much I want to see Maggie recognised with the year's film award nominations are released. THIS is the sort of film I've been waiting for. Maggie is released over here in the UK by Vertigo Films on 24th July, please go to see it — it will stay with you for a very long time.
I never imagined that Arnold Schwarzenegger's tears could possibly entertain as much as his muscles – Maggie proves that I was wrong.
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