Hopefully, the time for cheekiness about Arnold Schwarzenegger being in a zombie movie that isn't much like a traditional zombie movie should be coming to a close sometime soon. That frame-of-mind almost works like an easy distraction from whatever issues one might have with Maggie, which is built on a premise strong enough to land on the blacklist of best unproduced screenplays four years prior. After all, if first-time director Henry Hobson's film turns out to be lackluster, then at least you got the chance to see the badass responsible for Dutch, Douglas Quaid, and The Governator give a small and unique indie the old college try, right? Surprisingly, neither the familiar concept nor the performances pose any threats to this artfully novel synthesis of apocalyptic horror and parental crisis. Instead, its tonal heaviness -- both sentimental and tragic -- and narrative longevity without energetic beats are what keep it quarantined from the potential magnitude of its character drama.
In a way, despite being just a farmer in a secluded area of the American midwest, Wade Vogel still turns out to be a heroic role for Schwarzenegger. The disappearance of his daughter -- accompanied by a voice message telling him not to look for her -- leads Wade to search the surrounding area for several weeks, finally landing on her location in a hospital. There, he learns that Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been diagnosed with the rampant, society-crippling epidemic that has plagued the country, one that turns people into mindless cannibals after a grueling transformation. Options are limited to giving over the severely infected to quarantine zones, or to take care of the situation independently. With a little help from someone he knows in the medical profession, Wade chooses the latter, bringing Maggie back to his country home with the intent of spending as much time with her as possible before it happens ... and ensuring that nobody, not even the authorities, prevents that from happening.
The process of turning into a zombie in the world of Maggie takes longer than it does in most other horror settings, sharing more in common with a terminal illness than those other quick biological mutations designed to create packs of monsters for the heroes to avoid (and shoot in the head). The script from first-time writer John Scott III intelligently explores that difference for the sake of complicated personal conflicts and tough decisions, though it overestimates the staying power of Maggie's slow progression and the scenario's confined scope. The situation extends to a degree where it feels like a low-energy, high-emotion subplot from The Walking Dead has been stretched and spread into a primary two-episode story, bloating the gloomy drama within picturesque, filtered camerawork of the bucolic setting. With that, though, the focus also shifts to the moral dilemma in Wade Vogel's hands as he watches his daughter gradually slip away, aiding the lethargic pace by pulling no punches in emphasizing the certainty of it all.
There's little denying the bleak, heartbreaking intentions coursing through Maggie's veins, especially once the young woman starts coming to grips with her mortality, the tragedy she's previously weathered and the things she'll never get to fully experience. While the brawny Terminator star has justly received attention for his tempered attitude here, the bulk of the film's substance relies on Abigail Breslin's capacity to approach the zombie infection like an incurable and fatal disease. Her character copes with a lot, both physically and emotionally, and Breslin's responses to the worsening prognosis and disappearing humanity heighten the grim inevitability of the premise. Melancholy musings about Maggie's deceased biological mother and budding romance halted by the pandemic are quietly moving, her character's despondency maturely handled even when we'd expect anger to get the best of her. Focusing on her character tends to be a two-edged sword, though, limiting any examination of the other characters -- especially her step-mother -- to one-note responses to her worsening condition.
Maggie's physical changes throughout the film are compellingly subtle at first, enough to be observable amid the drama -- clouding eyes, darkening of veins, eroding skin -- without offsetting any emotional intentions. The drawn-out tempo of the story actually works to her transformation's favor, elaborating on each incremental stage for a comprehensive depiction of both her descent and of Wade's tormented resolve, taking familiar zombie-movie tropes and genuinely expanding on them. Hobson's direction only reaches true heights when she crosses a threshold in her symptoms, the point where she starts to lose what makes her human as Wade's moment of decision approaches. There are no bad guys here or objectively correct pathways taken, and Schwarzenegger's burly emotive poise really embraces the enormity of the situation through the character's safeguarding of his daughter until the time comes. To the end, he convincingly portrays a father who'll fight to ensure that her mortality lies in their hands, earning the film's somber but comparatively rewarding moment where Maggie's preference trumps all.
Maggie trucks onto Blu-ray form Lionsgate in a standard one-disc package, but with a nice added design touch. To compensate for the dominantly gray ton of the cover artwork, they've included an extremely slick slipcase with slightly raised lettering over the title (and biohazard symbol) and a fine texture outside the head-shots of the two main actors, with little faint scribble elements scrawled atop. The disc artwork inside duplicates the outer design.
Video and Audio:
Maggie's visual style tends to be about as grim as the film itself, sporting unhealthy colors full of burdened purples, tans, and grays to elevate the apocalyptic atmosphere. Lionsgate's Blu-ray ably captures the 2.35:1-framed digital cinematography within a textured, stable 1080p AVC transfer, tackling the obstacles that Henry Hobson's visual style threw at it. The washed-out palette and heavier artificial digital grain are inherent and intended, yet within those limitations are a compelling gradient of restrained tones -- warmer skin shades for the healthy, paler ones for the infected -- and respectable black levels that don't eliminate detail. Strong fine details fight against the noise for a nuanced but gritty look in motion, occasionally a tad bulky in digital presence but largely satisfying. When brighter shades do emerge, such as flashing police lights, biohazard cans, and splashes of blood, they're properly set apart from the rest of the image, while warmer-lit interiors and sterile hospitals exhibit properly robust shades of orange and aqua. It's not a traditionally beautiful transfer, but it's certainly a capable and unique one.
Unexpectedly, there's a lot of atmospheric activity present in the 5.1 DTS-HD MAster Audio track, where the sounds of the rickety farmhouse and the sparse life beyond it fill the entire surround stage on more than a few occasions. Potent sound effects from firing guns and cars driving through gravel roads reveal fine separation and strength in the front channels, while subtler effects from a ringing telephone and a rattling animal cage are delivered crisply and with fine spatial awareness. The persistent, emotive score from Mud and Joe's David Wingo commands a consistent presence at the heart of the track, yet never drowns out any o the dialogue, which retains an organic strength and audibility no matter who's speaking . No distortion crops up anywhere, hushed voices are well-attuned, and ambient flourishes -- eerie effects during a bathtub sequence, for one example -- are appropriately full and harsh. English and Spanish subtitles are available.
The extras are spearheaded by Henry Hobson's stab at a director's Audio Commentary, a sparse but relatively informative track from start to finish. There are a number of silent gaps scattered throughout that make the whole listening experience a bit of a drag; however, Hobson's insights on achieving the low-color look of the film, the number and structure of the houses used for the Vogel residence, Schwarzenegger channeling Clint Eastwood, and his usage of light sources in a world without electricity make his interjected bits of information rather interesting to listen to. Making of Maggie (18:14, 16x9 HD), while a fairly standard collection of interviews, offers a fairly similar experience: scenes from the film pad out the runtime much longer than it should, but the interviews with the filmmakers and Schwarzegger make it a worthwhile viewing experience. Writer John Scott III offers a strong, appreciative perspective on getting the film made with such a high-profile cast, which eventually feeds into a solid dissection of the emotionally challenging ending.
A series of five raw Interviews with the Cast and Crew reveals that there was a lot more material that could've gone into the press-kit assembly, featuring a good eight minutes with director Henry Hobson and nearly twenty (!) with Arnold Schwarzenegger where they discuss their inspirations, passions, and work ethics. Also available is a brief Deleted Scene (2:16, 16x9 HD) featuring an unsuccessful moment of intimacy between husband and wife, as well as fine Theatrical Trailer (2:09, 16x9 HD). An Ultraviolet Digital Copy slip fills out the rest of the package.
Despite being too prolonged and insistently grim for the scope of its premise, Maggie transforms a familiar idea from the zombie subgenre -- caring for an infected loved one until the time comes -- into an emotionally complex ode to parental care and coming to grips with inevitability. Schwarzenegger impressively channels his commanding screen presence into a sympathetic, protective father, while Abigail Breslin guides her maturing dramatic poise through the many harrowing shades of becoming a mindless and gruesome flesh-eater, from slow realizations about what's coming to the physical metamorphosis itself. The 90-plus minute length does force the grim material to drag, though, typically when Maggie isn't on-screen, but it's worth grinding through those sluggish moments to get to the meat of the matter. Lionsgate's Blu-ray handles the distinctive visuals with aplomb, and the available interviews and commentary present just enough material there to satisfy hungry viewers after the credits roll. Mildly Recommended.