The Arnold Schwarzenegger starring zombie drama Maggie was quite easily one of my most anticipated films of this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival. Well, I got to see the film and here's my review.

After searching for a couple of weeks, Wade (Arnold Schwarzenneger) is relived to find his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) after she has runaway from home. Where he finds her though, isn't as great. However, having contracted the incurable Necroambulist virus - which transforms its victims into soulless, flesh-eating savages - during her time away,  she is found in the quarantine wing of a hospital, being treated for a severe bite on her arm.

With symptoms still weak and some yet to present, she is released from the hospital and allowed to return home with Wade, where her anxious stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson) waits for their arrival. But, as time progresses, Maggie's condition worsens and Wade's old friend Dr. Vern (Jodie Moore) warns him of what's to come and what methods can be used for when that happens but as Maggie begins to turn, Wade must come to terms with her situation and act accordingly when the virus finally consumes her.

And so the groundwork is set for Henry Hobson's directorial debut, a slow-paced, intimate new zombie thriller packed with a unique punch and laden with such precision and beauty. The subdued indie is the silver lining amongst all the big blockbusters, never quite so boasting in budget and scale but being just as entertaining. It's an atypical zombie film; more powerful and sincere. Hobson disposes the idea of guts and brains and whizzing bullets left, right and centre for a quiet, sombre focus on the more mental detriment something like the apocalypse brings with it - for everyone involved, the victim included.
Where we typically see someone get bit or scratched mutate into a brain-dead cannibal within days, maybe even hours, the "turn" - as the film references it - takes several weeks in Maggie. It really grounds the idea more and adds a better sense of realism to such an idea. This means there's not zombies at every corner and unlike something like World War Z or other similar blockbusters, the action is toned down quite drastically. Sure, we still have some action unfolding screen but it's a lot less bloody and less gory than your typical gun-toting post-apocalyptic endeavour. It's a slow-burn, that's for sure, but Hobson still manages to keep us enthralled and maintains a nice level of suspense throughout.

Of course, when you cast Arnold Schwarzenneger in a lead role in such a project, eyebrows will be raised. The way people doubted Steve Carrell's potential for drama with Foxcatcher, there's a similar prospect ongoing with Schwarzenneger in Maggie. Seeing the actor in a zombie flick isn't much of a shocker. Arnie wielding a machine gun, mowing down hoards of the lifeless beings isn't hard to picture. We're not in the 90s anymore though and Maggie isn't that type of zombie picture. With a more subliminal role than used to, it's hard to imagine Schwarzenneger in such a dramatic front.

However, he excels. And it's one of these "you have to see it to belive it" scenarios. He's no badass. He isn't a superdad, as far as the audience is concerned. The bearded Arnie is just a typical father, wanting to look out for his daughter. The actor truly glows in this form, as Wade, bringing some heavyweight acting gravitas to the proceedings. There's not a lot of dialogue but he brings a lot of heart and emotion to the distraught character nevertheless. Wade's in a difficult siuation and going through a lot of pain and Schwarzenneger sells it remarkably well, making it so believable and poignant.

It helps that there's some seriously veritable chemistry between himself and the also marvellous Abigail Breslin. Sure, the accents and looks may make the father/daughter relationship between the pair a bit hard to belive at first but the two bounce off one another so superbly that you buy into and believe their relationship and their love and their struggle. The heart of this film is about that relationship with the zombie aspect present simply to spice things up but the idea is the same if the Necroambulist was something like cancer instead.
Breslin has shown off her dramatic chops in roles before and she's just as fantastic here. Her turn takes the large majority of the film to fully kick in but you really empathise with what Maggie is going through. Breslin brings a lot of depth to the character and she conveys the mental and physical pain Maggie is going through so brilliantly. Her symptoms are disturbing and will make anyone wince in their seat, especially a scene involving a finger and a knife. It's hard not to empathise with her suffering.

Aside from the leading pair, however, the performances are quite stiff. Thankfully, the emotion and weight of the plot don't fall too heavily on the supporting cast but there's a lack of emotion and substance from everyone from Maggie's step-mom Coraline to Wade's friend Vern. In the case of the former, Joely Richardson feels very underused and her character underdeveloped which makes it hard to empathise with her. As for the latter, the performance is just stale and bland. The same goes for the vast majority of the supporting cast. They just feel useless and you don't buy into their characters.

There's a subplot involving Mags' boyfriend Trent (Bryce Romero) which is undernourished and pretty sloppily thrown into the script. Just like the rest of the supporting actors, the kid is stale and his role in the film feels very tedious. In fact, it's the second half of the project in general that drags on a little. It begins to feel very repetitive and there's a lot of little threads that are mawkishly explained. The script begins to get a little lazy but things do eventually pick up for the finale which, despite its inevitability, is still shocking and hauntingly poignant and so well executed.

Overall, Maggie is a great piece. Slow but engaging; quiet yet powerful; this is a fresh spin on the zombie subgenre. Our two central performances are riveting and compelling and make for some sincere, intimate viewing. Playing out like an extended episode of The Walking Dead at times (which isn't a bad thing), this is a zombie thriller with a heart. The drama is well-balanced and makes for a meaningful film. The dark, brooding shots and scenery is visually stunning and only add to the atmosphere too. Sure, there's elements of laziness but the inconsistencies are forgettable and once put aside, we have a wonderful film and a nice contribution to the zombie genre.

VERDICT:
Bold and audacious, with a stunning Schwarzenneger and Breslin, Maggie is a unique, thrilling zombie drama that is simply to die for!
★★★★☆

Maggie opens July 24th, 2015.





About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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