When I heard the premise of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his zombie daughter, I thought Maggie sounded like a great idea. Way to suck any possibly interesting thing out of your movie. Maggie is a boring, ugly film that even gets the myth of zombieism wrong.
Wade (Schwarzenegger) picks Maggie (Abigail Breslin) up from the hospital. She’s been bitten, but as a personal favor they let him take her home instead of sending her straight to quarantine. The town (and presumably whole world) has been affected by the zombie outbreak recently, so they’re still figuring out how to deal with it. The best they can do is quarantine the infected and wait for them to turn, then kill them.
Maggie has the potential to be a great grief movie as this family has to deal with saying goodbye to their daughter. It is inevitable, the way cancer is, but that’s not what zombies are about. Grief is a human coping mechanism. Zombies are about a total removal of humanity, transforming people into devolved guttural eaters. Sure, the Romero movies have brief moments where someone bitten contemplates ending it now or waiting a few more days, but that’s a rational decision as a component of an entire tapestry, not the focus of the epidemic.
So this is missing the point of zombie movies, or unsuccessfully trying to appropriate it as something else, but don’t worry, it’s so badly made they’re not wasting any great material on a misguided premise. The focus may be on a family of farmers, just regular folks as opposed to the urban heroes of zombie movies, but it has nothing to say about these people. It just drags out the inevitable. It doesn’t even build. A series of scenes, in which authority figures and doctors seem like potential threats, are undercut before anything interesting can happen. Maggie hangs out with her friends once, but these were the most boring teenagers before the zombie outbreak. Show me the Dazed & Confused kids turning into zombies with their articulate Richard Linklater dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, there is so little of it in Maggie, how many pages was the script? It wants to be the contemplative, brooding philosophical zombie movie, but just holding a shot of a character staring isn’t deep. It doesn’t have to be zombie hordes or action, but something has to be happening.
It’s the ugliest movie I can remember seeing since The Divide. It’s so underlit you can barely even see anything. That’s because there’s no electricity any more so everyone uses lanterns. It’s source lighting gone wrong. The camera is all handheld so all those still scenes of nothing are jerking around in nauseatingly low light. The camera is bobbing around when Wade is in the field or when his wife (Joely Richardson) is in the kitchen. There’s no reason for a moving camera in these static scenes, and it certainly doesn’t make them any less static. The shot compositions are awful with characters positioned in ways that actually repel you from looking at them. Maybe that was the point. If so, mission accomplished.
There may have been some mixed family dynamics in there. I think Richardson plays Wade’s second wife, so there could have been multiple levels that Maggie is not only not her biological daughter, but not biologically human either. The film doesn’t play with that. One of the cops says “I’ll be back” to Wade. I sure hope that was a play on Arnold’s catch phrase but it was probably a coincidence. People do occasionally have to announce their impending return to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’m usually the defender of somber movies, and I’m usually the one who champions the positive value of those movies. It’s constructive and cathartic to work through our grief and making art about it isn’t inherently depressing. Not Maggie though. This was an unpleasant experience all along.