It’s been a strange month for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s gone back to his most successful franchise for the fourth time with the latest Terminator film, and now does something he’s never done before: a zombie film.
This is Schwarzenegger’s second foray into the horror genre, but Maggie could scarcely be more different from 1999’s End of Days. While that film was an Arnie flick throughout, with loud action and cheesy lines, Maggie is a borderline arthouse zombie movie about his daughter’s gradual transformation into a flesh-eating monster. This will disappoint those hoping to see Arnie ploughing through waves of zombies with an uzi which, if the number of people who left the screening I was at is anything to go by, is a sizeable share of the audience.
The film begins with the apocalypse in full swing. It’s not quite post-apocalyptic, given there’s still a functioning society, but it’s getting there. Let’s call it late-apocalyptic. They’re at the crop-burning stage. It has a greyed, washed out appearance akin to films like The Road and Blue Ruin, and like those films it homes in on a drama between a small number of characters rather than seeking to show anything on a larger scale.
There’s some excellent photography showing some skilful direction, but it also fails to resonate on an emotional level. In last year’s Sabotage Schwarzenegger shunned the star vehicle in favour of a film where he could, for the first time in his career, try and show himself as a serious actor. In Maggie he takes this further, as the whole film is about the relationship between him and his daughter. Perhaps he’s sick of everyone assuming he can’t act and feels like he has something to prove. Maybe he realises he’ll never again be the box office behemoth he once was so want to branch out, or just understands that at 67 he has a limited shelf life as an action star. In any case it’s interesting to see him take a risk like this. He has a producer credit here, suggesting that, as with his first attempt at comedy in Twins, he may have got the film made himself to show what he’s capable of. But it can’t shake the feeling he wasn’t the right man for the part.
He does a reasonable job delivering the dialogue, with a restraint not always on display in his films, and at one point manages to shed a solitary tear. But for a film which rests on this performance, he still isn’t good enough.This is a film which could have been emotional with some slightly better writing and slightly better acting, but as it is it fails to stand out from the crowd. It gets points for atmosphere and cinematography, but it moves at zombie-speed and doesn’t have enough excitement to keep its pulse going. Written by rocket scientist John Scott 3 (even writers have sequels now) there are some good ideas, but rocket science it isn’t, and as an attempt to launch Arnie into the acting stratosphere, it never really takes off.