Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rohan: Grim, Grey Maggie

(The domestic zombie drama Maggie had a sporadic release schedule, but our friend Rohan Morbey caught up with it and shares his thoughts below. His original review can be found as always over at Rohan's site Closing Credits - do follow him on Twitter!)  

The zombie genre has hit a new high in popularity with the success of the FX show The Walking Dead, and the last thing cinema needs is another zombie film where an infection breaks out and a band of ‘everyday’ people try to survive for two hours. To the credit of first-time director Henry Hobson, Maggie is not the typical zombie film, but it offers essentially nothing new to the genre either, made worse by the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a role in which he can establish no authority.

Hobson’s crucial mistake is making his film so dour and one-note without fleshing out the main characters (the titular Maggie, played by Abigail Breslin, and her father Wade, played by Schwarzenegger) to a point where we care if Maggie lives or dies, and all emotional involvement drains away earlier on. The premise is certainly intriguing but Hobson’s treatment of his characters and situation always too shallow and minimalist to satisfy anyone looking for a fresh take on well-trodden ground; the zombie infection is treated like any terminal disease in real life, where the sufferer is affected physically and friends and families are affected emotionally, and whilst this may sound deep and thought-provoking, Maggie soon proves bereft of ideas. Quite why we should care about the fictional dilemma is unclear when the film pads out its modest running time with precious little more than you might find in a Nicholas Sparks weepie. Cancer or zombie infection – what’s the difference except that one is entirely made up and carries no weight whatsoever in a world which is never established as anything more than... grey.

And grey is the only color Hobson seems to know. I read that he was a title designer on several features and this is seemingly the limitation of his cinematic sensibilities; he evokes far too much of The Walking Dead to convince us he has a truly original idea in mind, and uses a floating camera too freely, without enough emotional depth to warrant its use. Like the story and characterization, Hobson’s directing technique is empty and vapid; if we cared it might have some resonance but dark and dingy alone is not enough to take the place of character and emotion – John Hillcoat’s The Road it certainly is not.

One scene which introduces Maggie to a boy her age who has also been infected is certainly the film’s only strong sequence. Here we get to see Maggie interact and see what life she once led and how the infection doesn’t make her an outcast from everyone but her father. The film needed more scenes like this, where conversation between people could lead to us caring about Maggie’s demise; but Hobson favors the dark and dreary finality from the very start. All hope is lost before we ever have the chance to lose it, so quite why we would want to be told this tale is anyone’s guess.

The casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger sets out expectations. Of course we shouldn’t expect anything like 80s and 90s level of Arnie charisma today, regardless what type of film he’s in, but Maggie shows his limitations without him doing anything wrong; nothing here suggests why he should ever have been cast, aside from getting the film financed. One still cannot see anyone other than Schwarzenegger regardless of whatever character he plays – and that used to be the reason why we saw his films. In Maggie I just wondered why John Matrix looked so tired all the time. Perhaps he knew what was coming for the next 95 minutes.

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