TFF2015: Maggie

Abigail Breslin's dad can beat up your dad in Maggie

          We’ve been in a zombie “renaissance” for so long now it doesn’t seem like there’s anything left to add… so it’s refreshing to see a movie that takes a different approach.  Fans hungry for pulse pounding gory action will be let down, but if you’ve ever wanted to see the emotional complications of the whole “my loved one’s turning, what do I do?” quandary explored at length, you’ll find much to appreciate here.

            The presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger as father to the titular teen (Abigail Breslin, appealing and completely selling it) might suggest rock-‘em-sock-’em action, but here’s the thing: the former Governator is actually required to act here.  (He’s even listed as having a drama coach.)  If anything, the years have only added believable gravitas to his distinctive face, and though he still looks Brawny campaign ready when he chops up wood in flannel, the focus here is more on his fatherly feelings and the conflict he faces as Maggie’s “necrotory ambulatory syndrome” progresses—especially with Maggie’s stepmom (we missed you, Joely Richardson!) increasingly uneasy about the child she’s loved as her own.  (Richardson does well with a difficult and potentially sympathetic role.  Also, this movie passes the Bechdel test, which is pretty cool.)

            I assumed the movie would focus mainly on its movie star lead’s feelings about his daughter, but there’s actually a lot of attention given to Maggie.  Breslin and Schwarzenegger share warm, believable father/daughter chemistry, and it’s fascinating and affecting to watch Maggie come to grips with her inevitable condition.  There’s even an inspiring romantic subplot between Maggie and the also-infected Trent (Bryce Romero, cute even when he’s all veiny-faced). 

            `Maggie hits all the required marks with its eerie images of post-outbreak wasteland, top-tier makeup effects, and unnerving radio reports.  But this well written, well-acted film, shot in de-saturated tones and making great use of Louisiana locations, bucks the norm by serving more as drama than horror film.  It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a carefully constructed addition to the walking dead canon.

Maggie screens Saturday at 9:30 at Regal Battery Park City as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and will be released nationally this summer.

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