“It’s a concept without a payoff, with a lumbering screenplay which fails to connect from act to act, and at times even from scene to scene.”
by Ken B.
Smoke billows from the flat plains of the Midwest as farmers are instructed to burn their crops in the hope of stopping the spread of the virus which has ravaged the world. Hospitals are filled to capacity, while doctors and nurses are forced to wear Hazmat suits whilst tending to the numerous patients infected with what has been coined as “The Turn”, an epidemic which has swept anything living, and in humans, slowly rotting them from the outside in, and when the disease reaches their inner nervous system, all but turning them into zombies. It is an excruciating process, and on average, maybe two months passes from initial contact to full transition. This is the world that Henry Hobson’s Maggie occurs in. You would assume, based on my description, that this film is a thriller with breakneck pacing. You would be wrong, as it takes the route of a slower, more contemplative drama. Given this information, you may now assume that this is a meticulous, intelligent, slow burn of a movie. Sadly, that’s also not the case. It’s a concept without a payoff, with a lumbering screenplay which fails to connect from act to act, and at times even from scene to scene.
Maggie is not only the title, but also the name of a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has been infected. Her degradation has begun. Her father Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) oversees her discharge from the hospital and takes her to his home, where he and Maggie’s stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson) will look after her. Maggie has not been brought home to recover, as there is no way that those befallen with The Turn can recover. Her release from quarantine is done under the strict assumption that she will be watched whenever possible, as she is allowed to set her affairs in order before the inevitable.
To its credit, the screenplay, written by John Scott III (stylized as “John Scott 3”), has a lot of ideas and approaches it wants to try out. The problem is it feels like multiple movies haphazardly shoved into one 95 minute package. Sometimes it feels like a post-apocalyptic zombie movie where Schwarzenegger works his way through the undead. Other times it shifts towards a small-scale drama about the family at hand, and even at other occasions, like some sort of an adolescent character study set up against the backdrop of mortality, like The Fault in Our Stars, except instead of terminal cancer, Maggie employs zombification. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in multiple genres, but when each segment fails to congeal and feels like something with the same characters but with a radically different approach to each, the effect is simply jarring instead of adventurous and experimental.
Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin have received fair amounts of praise for their performances, as they should be – they are able to overcome the limitations of the script and deliver a compelling onscreen result. A strongly convincing parental relationship is visible from Wade to his daughter. Towards the end, a set of scenes where pivotal developments occur is magnificently acted by both actors, despite the fact that there is almost no dialogue uttered. Additionally, you can’t fault director Hobson for an uninspired aesthetic – there is a muted, nearly grayscale look on display, shot by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin, employing natural light as a predominate source, either obviously so in exterior shots or pouring in through kitchen windows, still cool and dirty from the faded colors. With its zombie setup, a plot centered around a father-daughter relationship, and dusty looks, comparisons to the video game The Last of Us aren’t unfounded from a purely conceptual viewpoint.
And yet for all the good on display in Maggie, the lack of focus apparent in the writing violently derails just about everything in front of (or behind) the camera. It’s a chore to sit through, and that’s an absolute shame. There are many good things going on here, but there is a crippling sense that this movie just isn’t that watchable. What could have been resonant, suspenseful, and heartbreaking turns out to be shaky, unfulfilling, and uninteresting, as the strengths of the performances and the cinematography are left floundering in vicious waters, abandoned by a screenplay which doesn’t support their collective efforts.