Maggie features the best acting performance of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. All it took was a zombie drama film to wring it out of him.
That’s right. The nuanced performance of a father caring for his terminally ill daughter is one so poignant that I was left wondering why Arnold keeps trying to make action films. In fact, if you substitute Maggie for his action career, the film becomes a study of Schwarzenegger’s reluctance to let go of something that deep inside he knows is over.
But I digress. Maggie is the titular character of the film, performed masterfully by Abigail Breslin. She has been infected with the deadly Necroambulist virus, which is just a scientific way saying ‘zombie’. People are missing, crops are dying, and the world is practically post-apocalyptic in the wake. It takes an uncertain period time to go full zombie, so Maggie’s father (Wade) takes her home to enjoy what little time she has left. Virus victims are supposed to be released to Quarantine after a period called ‘the turn’ when they can no longer control themselves, but Wade is obviously reluctant to do so. Even as Maggie’s condition worsens, Wade is still unable to face the ultimate truth: he will have to turn his daughter over to the authorities to be killed, or kill her himself.
If that sounds like a dismal premise, it is. Maggie is a pretty depressing movie, yet one you can’t turn away from. The directing, score, and cinematography create a quite sense of dread that creeps over you while at the same time locking you to the screen. Great care was taken in the script to evoke drama from a genre that can be pretty ridiculous at times. But here the zombie threat takes a backseat in order to focus on the impact on both the infected and their families. In truth the film could have been about any terminal illness and still have been effective, but the zombie virus works as a catalyst to create the worst possible scenario, especially in view of the ultimate outcome.
The actors are absolutely terrific, and Schwarzenegger surprises the most in his delivery. His performance is so unlike his other roles that it’s almost like a new actor is born. He absolutely inhabits the role of world-weary farmer and pain-stricken father, bottling up the agony of his ordeal in his eyes and facial expressions. It would be nice to see him continue to choose these smaller roles in independent films. What a footnote that would be for his lengthy career.
Verdict: See it. This film deserves much more than the limited release it received.
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com