J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Tribeca ’15: Maggie

The zombie apocalypse has come, but the everyday mundane rituals of life continue. For instance, NPR is still broadcasting (and providing exposition), which is about as dull and trivial as life gets. The cities are like demilitarized zones, but those who reside in the countryside continue on relatively undisturbed—unless one of their family members is infected. A rugged Iowa farmer with an Austrian accent must deal with his daughter’s painful transition, ominously known as “the turn,” in Henry Hobson’s Maggie (trailer here), opening this Friday in New York, following its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Like many infected teens, Maggie Vogel ran off to the big city rather than putting her family through the pain of her turn. Checking into one of the nightmarish government field hospitals is not an option, but unfortunately that is where she is forcibly detained until her father finds her. While she is still lucid, she will have time to make her goodbyes to family and friends, but it clearly will not be easy.

Maggie always adored her twin step-brother and step-sister and got on reasonably well with her step-mother. However, Caroline Vogel’s top priority is clearly protecting the twins, which creates friction with Wade. The local sheriff and his jerkweed deputy are also anxious to whisk Maggie back into custody, but it is hard argue with a man the size of Wade Vogel, who is holding a shotgun. Vogel obviously intends to cling to every last hope and does not care what some county employee thinks about it. However, Maggie Vogel is only too aware of the reality of her situation, because she can see it in the mirror.

There have already been a number of anti-genre deconstructions of the zombie film, such as BBC America’s post-zombie cure series In the Flesh and the Canadian feature The Returned, so Maggie’s focus on the intimate human drama of the zombie uprising is not so unusual anymore. Still, Hobson (the title design for The Walking Dead) and screenwriter John Scott 3 carve out a small niche, where zombies are contained (more or less), but not cured. Still, what makes Maggie work so well is the first rate cast.

Believe it or not, that starts with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is finally the sort of film he should be pursuing for his post-politics return to the big screen. Let’s face it, he was a disappointing governor who just continued all the fiscal problems he promised to stop, but he still has an awful lot of accrued good will with movie fans. Up until Last Action Hero he was batting nearly one thousand, if we make allowances for Red Sonja. He has a reassuring screen presence that gives comfort and inspires confidence. As Vogel, he is able to build on that reservoir of good feeling, creating a surprisingly tender portrait of a father facing the unthinkable.

As the titular Maggie, Abigail Breslin gives a refreshingly smart and subtle performance, conveying a powerful sense of how quickly she has grown up as she faces her fate. Although she is likely to be overlooked, Joely Richardson is also terrific as the step-mother trying her best, despite her very human failings. In fact, it is the intelligent, heartfelt rendering of the Vogel family dynamics that really elevates Maggie.

Yes, Wade Vogel kills a handful of zombies, but the film is highly likely to disappoint fans expecting a vintage 1980s Schwarzenegger film. However, it suggests he might be able to pull off a third act comeback, after all. Appropriately moody and shockingly touching, Maggie is highly recommended for sophisticated genre fans when it opens this Friday (5/8) in select theaters, following its premiere screenings at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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