Maggie (2015) DVD Review

MAGGIE (2015)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson

Directed by Henry Hobson

Written by John Scott 3

UK DVD Release 23rd November from Universal

A teenage girl in the Midwest becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.

People getting bit by, and gradually turning into, zombies is a staple of the genre. There is not one single zombie outbreak film that does not contain this sequence, and it’s usually one of the more emotional and powerful scenes in there. But what if their was a whole film based around this one sequence? Would it be ultra-intense and powerful? Or would it drag itself around like a reanimated corpse..?

Shot in grey and gloomy tones and almost exclusively handheld, Maggie establishes a quite realistic vision of a zombie outbreak. No mass hysteria, no massacres, just a world odealing with it like they deal with any outbreak: quarantines and paranoia.

Wade (ARNIE!!!) goes to the city to pick up his recently bitten eldest daughter Maggie (Breslin, growing up fast!) and finds her…okay really, other than the scabby bite wound on her arm. He is allowed to take her home, but warned by doctors that sooner or later, she is going to turn, and before that happens, she needs to be quarantined.

But Maggie is a daddy’s girl, and Wade is not going to give up on his hopeless dream of a normal existence for her. He takes her home to his rural homestead, where he and Maggie must deal with angry mob police, heartbroken townsfolk and a struggling Caroline (Richardson), Maggie’s mother. All the while, Maggie is beginning to rot, and the inevitable is getting nearer and nearer. Sooner or later, Wade must make a choice. Stick his little girl, or end her suffering.

Take the word “zombie” out of there and you have the basic premise of any lifetime tragedy-of-the-week, and that was the main issue with Maggie. The script didn’t try and do anything new, it told a story we’ve seen a fair few times before but under the cynical cover of the zombie genre in order to seem fresh. It only worked for so long.

Another issue with the script was that I felt it started at the wrong point. The film’s ending was a foregone conclusion, but would have been so much more powerful if we had a glimpse at this family in happier times. I always think a bit of humour always makes tragedy hit harder, especially in the horror genre (I still cry at the end of Dog Soldiers) but Maggie decides to start on a depressing, somber note, and stick with it until the very end. It’s a pretty draining watch all in all and I’d be lying if I said I was entertained. But I don’t think this is meant to entertain. It is here to provoke a discussion, ask the moral questions of it’s audience. And in that it succeeds.

But Maggie could never be called a bad film and here’s why: the performances from the whole cast are extremely authentic and engaging. Breslin completely sells a naive girl who must grow up fast; Richardson convinces as a mother dealing with the impossible situation best she can; but it’s Arnie who steals the show here, in a very un-showy turn as a father who finds himself completely out of his depth in a world he no longer recognises. There’s a real damaged, sorrowful soul in Arnie’s performance here, and it’s the best he’s ever been. I’m a lifelong Arnie fan, but this is something not seen before from him. He’s magnetic in this.

Couple that with some stunning imagery from newbie director Henry Hobson that lends an epic scope to what is a very small, low-key drama, and you have a film that all zombie fans should seek out. There was the potential for a dark body-horror here (imagine what Cronenberg could have done with it) but instead we have a mature, committed, and tight family tragedy. As long as you don’t expect any hardcore zombie gore and violence, and are ready for a slower, existential and moody piece, then you will find work to admire here.

7/10

Final Girl (2015) Review

finalgirlcoverFINAL GIRL (2015)

Director: Tyler Shields

Stars: Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Alexander Ludwig, Logan Huffman, Cameron Bright, Reece Thompson, Emma Paetz, Francesca Eastwood

UK RELEASE: 7 September 2015 (Arrow Films)

Veronica was born different. Now a young orphan with a distinct lack of empathy and a near photographic memory, she is perfect for Government agent William’s (Wes Bentley) secret project.

Flashforward 12 years to 1950s America and Veronica (Abigail Breslin) is about to complete her training, learning efficient hand-to-hand combat techniques and forest tracking skills. Now she is ready to learn her mission.

Young blonde women have been disappearing and William believes he has discovered the culprits: a group of privileged young men lead by the handsome but psychotic Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), who pick up potential victims at a small diner, then hunt them down like animals and murder them in the nearby woods. Now William has deliberately placed Veronica in their sights — but who will be the hunter and who will be the hunted?

finalgirl1In Final Girl Tyler Shields has created a stylish and compelling thriller with a real, bloody edge. The Fifties setting is a wonderful touch, giving all of the characters and music a sort of ‘Happy Days gone very, very wrong’ vibe.

It looks excellent, thanks in no small part to some clever use of colour with the always excellent Breslin’s porcelain skin and bright scarlet dress a real standout in the often dark and murky scenes. Cinematographer Gregory Middleton ensures the film has a polished glamorous look to it, as is only befitting of a tale set in this era. Breslin really impressed me in Maggie earlier this year, and she’s just as awesome here. She’s a fascinating character, part childlike, part cold and ruthless killing machine. Much like TV’s Dexter, you get the impression that if it weren’t for the rigid structure of her training she could be every bit as dangerous as Jameson and his cronies.

finalgirl2This structure comes from her complex and fascinating relationship with Bentley’s William. Bentley is also fantastic, his character one who has lost so much – chief among which is his humanity. The interaction between William and Veronica makes for some of the best scenes in the film, feeling like a romance at times or a father-daughter relationship at others.

It’s not spoiling too much to reveal that William’s end game involves turning the tables on Jameson and his gang. There is a small plot hole here — if he knows who they are and he’s prepared to take the law into his own hands, why doesn’t he just ambush and execute the gang on his own?

This detail aside, Stephen Scarlata, Alejandro Seri and Johnny Silver’s simple plot still works, mainly due to the strength of the characters. Ludwig (who also stars in The Final Girls, confusingly) is a fantastic villain, utterly without moral boundaries, a psychopath with the sense of entitlement of a spoilt rich kid. The rest of the gang are also excellent, with special kudos to Huffman’s Joker-like portrayal of Daniel, while Paetz’s Jennifer gives us a rare sympathetic character among the villainous elite.

finalgirl3In fact, this refreshing lack of sympathy is a strong point to the film, even our heroes are morally ambiguous: a borderline psycho and a man ruthless and determined enough to exploit her to achieve his own goals. Unlike the dapper eveningwear of Jameson and his crew, there are no blacks and whites here, just shades of grey.
It’s a fascinating story that is well told and presented by a talented cast and crew. The ending may feel a little trite to some but it’s a cool journey to get there.

Highly recommended.

8/10

Maggie (2015) Review

maggie1MAGGIE (2015)

Director: Henry Hobson

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers, Carsen Flowers, Jodie Moore, Douglas M Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Bryce Romero, Raeden Greer

UK cinema release: 24th July from Vertigo

UK DVD/Blu-Ray release: 23rd November from Universal

The world has fallen prey to a deadly disease that turns sufferers into ravenous undead. There is no cure. However, unlike the bafflingly speedy infections of other zombie movies, in this film the disease takes an average of six to eight weeks to claim victims. The authorities are in control of the situation but the number of infected is placing a huge demand on resources. As such, individuals with the disease are processed into horrific quarantine pens.

Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is a teenager who has contracted the virus. The film opens with her father, Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger), walking into a quarantine unit to collect her after the family doctor has pulled some strings to allow Maggie home to spend time with her family before the end.

maggie2Upon getting back to the house we see her half-brother and half-sister bid her a sad farewell before they head off to live with their aunt. Quite understandably, Maggie’s step-mother Caroline (Joely Richardson) is concerned for their well-being but still wants to be there for her husband and the girl she has raised as her own in the tough times ahead.

Caroline isn’t the only one to have her reservations, as local lawmen Ray (Douglas M Griffin) and Holt (J.D. Evermore) aren’t pleased at having a walking biological hazard in the community either.

What follows is an in depth look at the physical and emotional trials Maggie faces as she draws closer to what scientists call The Turn. But what will Wade do when his little girl is lost to him forever? Will he endanger his life and those of the people around him through his undying father’s love?

When you imagine a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger you can’t help but picture a campy, high-octane, blood, brains ‘n’ bullets action romp.

Maggie is not that film.

maggie3This is first and foremost, a character study. It is barely a zombie film if the truth be told. A couple of heart-stopping encounters aside, there is very little in the way of brain-chewing undead. Much like the film’s ‘Necroambulist’ (see what they did there?) virus, this is a story prepared to move at a slower pace than a lot of zombie horror movies. Gorehounds should perhaps look elsewhere.

It could be seen as something of a gamble casting Arnie (who hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire since his full-time return to acting) in such a serious role, but a couple of clunky line deliveries aside, he is mostly up to the task of portraying the terrible turmoil his character is feeling.

The rest of the cast are uniformly superb, but special praise must go to the excellent Moore as Dr Vern and Oscar-nominee Breslin. She should already be familiar to genre fans for her roles in Zombieland, Haunter and TV’s Scream Queens, and for good reason – she is a revelation. Her chemistry with the Austrian Oak is astonishing and her subtle performance portrays complex emotions with ease. She really is the star of this film.

This is Henry Hobson’s first feature directing gig and it is an impressive début. The film has a washed out look, echoing the deathly pallor of the title character and tells its tragic story in a way that grips the viewer as it inexorably leads to the gut-wrenching climax. There are interesting sub-plots along the way, especially that of Maggie’s ex boyfriend and fellow infected Trent (Bryce Romero), but at its heart this is a story about a father and his daughter.

maggie4Saying this is a sad film might be an understatement. A warning to parents: this hits hard. I’ve never seen a cinema as morosely silent at the end of a film as I did when Maggie’s credits started to roll. It is not a date movie, but it is incredibly powerful, intelligent and moving — you NEED to see it.

I never imagined that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tears could possibly entertain as much as his muscles, but Maggie proves that I was wrong.

9/10

Haunter (2013) DVD Review

 

HAUNTER 001HAUNTER (2013) DVD

Directed By: Vincenzo Natali

Written By: Brian King

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, Stephen McHattie

UK Certification: 15

RRP: £12.99

Running Time: 94 minutes

Distributor: StudioCanal

UK Release Date: 14th July 2014

At the risk of issuing an imposingly pretentious statement, I’d always felt that Cube (1997) was one of the best science-fiction films of the last twenty years. When I rented the VHS on the now defunct Mosaic label at the end of the last century I was determined to track the career of Vincenzo Natali to see what this Detroit native would do next. Sequels to Cube followed, but Natali went in a different direction with the impressive espionage orientated sci-fi Cypher (2002). Nothing (2003) followed a year later, and is still to receive UK distribution while the ambitious Splice (2009) surfaced some six years later albeit without the heightened acclaim that accompanied his first two films.

HAUNTER 002Now Natali turns his hand to the horror genre with Haunter, a twisting mystery with a script written by Brian King (Cypher). Lisa Johnson (Breslin) is in limbo. It’s 1986 and she’s been living the same day over and over for quite some time. She and her family were killed in mysterious circumstances, and ever since this tragic event they have been stuck in a cycle of repetition. Lisa is aware of this, but her family they seem totally oblivious to this Groundhog Day scenario. Each day they all remain trapped within the fog cloaked confines of their home, robotically acting out the same chores and activities of the previous 24 hours.

Lisa’s despair at this never-ending purgatory is palpable, but just when she feels there’s no solution to it, some strange supernatural occurrences begin to take place. A whispered voice, a mysterious phone call, some creaking floor boards – signs that perhaps her family aren’t alone. As Lisa delves into these paranormal events, she discovers that they may not be the evil entity that she first thought. On the contrary, what she finds could well be the answer to her nightmares and provide her with the key to escape from this interminable hell.

An important aspect to Haunter is undoubtedly its quality. It has a very capable lead actress in Abigail Breslin who delivers a brilliant performance as Lisa, while the look of the film is first rate as it uses every aspect of this secret-laden house to realise its full eerie potential. With the narrative lying firmly within the mystery genre it’s great to see that King’s script has the assurance to navigate all the various developments with aplomb.

HAUNTER 003The storyline is a little intricate at times, but not to the degree that would leave the viewer feeling isolated. Natali handles the pacing well, and by the end of the movie you’re left in no doubt over the path that you’ve been taken on. It’s a feeling of relief to see a film like this come along as many genre pictures this year have seemed so dumbed down, almost treating us with contempt. With Haunter though we have a well-made horror film, both scary and atmospheric that treats the audience with respect, and it only seems fair to repay that by giving it the plaudits that it deserves.

7 out of 10