EIFF 2015 Review – Maggie (2015)

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The thought of Arnold Scwarzenegger starring in a ‘zombie film’ is set to conjure up fanboy pleasing images of the Austrian Oak battling his way through the undead apocalypse. However, Henry Hobson‘s horror-themed drama Maggie actually presents an emotionally contemplative look at life during an outbreak from the perspective of a father-daughter relationship.

Although bolstered by an outstanding turn from Schwarzenegger and featuring some stripped back emotion, the narrative scope of Maggie is occasionally too slender to prevent it becoming a classic of the genre.

Screenwriter John Scott III‘s debut feature sees a small Midwestern community forced to adapt in the midst of a zombie outbreak. When farmer Wade’s (Schwarzenegger) daughter (Abigail Breslin) is bitten, he’s left to care for her as she gradually turns into one of the undead.

Hobson has crafted a zombie film for The Walking Dead generation. Whilst there is gore and the odd moment of tense zombie-butchering horror, Maggie is more concerned with providing a thoughtful take on the emotional effects of an outbreak. Despite this, the outcome of Scott III’s narrative is apparent from the onset – it’s evident that Maggie will turn and Wade is going to be left with the decision to sent her to a harsh government quarantine or execute her himself. There’s some well-crafted moments of dread in getting to this dilemma as Wade’s daughter’s transition becomes more apparent (human flesh smelling like food, physical deterioration) as both the viewers and our protagonist are well aware of what is fast approaching.

Hobson and DoP Lukas Ettlin shoot Maggie with an earthy palette with most scenes taking place in claustrophobic wooden farmhouse interiors or in the dank surrounding woodland. Hobson has a light eye in terms of the style and tone of Maggie which is calmly observant and contemplative. Even when venturing into more typical genre material, the focus is sorely centred on emotional transition. This ensures that we receive a thoughtful performance from Schwarzenegger who plays against type here. The dilemma that Wade faces is particularly compelling in the hands of the actor who packs his performance with captivating subtle nuances showcasing a father’s impending grief. Breslin is strong in a restrained turn in her presentation of the gradual emotional and physical decay of the titular character, whilst Joely Richardson is on hand to inject some gravitas into an otherwise forgettable role of Wade’s sister.

Scott III’s screenplay is perhaps a little too short in terms of narrative scope and struggles to engage for the full runtime – but there is nonetheless something admirable about this small-scale take on the concept of a zombie apocalypse – especially in the hands of Scwarzenegger and Hobson.

Andrew McArthur

Genre: Drama, Horror | Edinburgh Film Festival 2015 | Distributor: Vertigo Films UK | Screened: 20th June 2015 | Released: 24th July 2015 (UK Cinema) | Rating: 15 | Director: Henry Hobson | Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Jodie Moore, Douglas M. Griffin