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

The Messenger (2015) DVD Review

messengerdvd1The Messenger (UK, 2015)

Dir: David Blair

Starring: Robert Sheehan, Lily Cole, Jack Fox, Joely Richardson.

UK DVD Release 2nd November 2015 from Metrodome UK

Plot: Jack (Sheehan) is a reluctant messenger between the living and the dead. The spirits of the dead seek out Jack to contact their loved ones, an act that has left Jack as a social outcast and in question over his mental state. When Jack gets involved with Mark (Fox), a murdered journalist, it puts Jack in danger with the police and strains his already frayed relationship with his sister, Emma (Cole).

I’d like to start this review by stating that The Messenger isn’t really a horror film. It is a film about ghosts but it’s more of a psychological drama, closer to The Sixth Sense than House on Haunted Hill. The Messenger focuses almost entirely on the character of Jack, the task that has been set upon him and if it is or isn’t all just mental illness caused by childhood trauma. If you’re expecting rattling chains and creeping apparitions you will be sorely disappointed here.

messenger4The Messenger has some wonderful acting, mainly carried by leading man, Robert Sheehan. I have to admit I’m mostly aware of his work on the Channel 4 show Misfits and The Messenger is a much more serious role. Yet Sheehan still manages to bring a bit of humour to it with Jack sarcastic quips as a reluctant anti-hero. Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Pernassus) is particularly notable as Jack’s sister who just wants to help him, but I felt she was a little underused.

David Blair shows his directorial professionalism in The Messenger, his extensive work in film and television shining through. He manages to craft a very intimate story with a non-linear plot, using flashbacks to flesh out Jack’s troubled past. The film’s thematic balance between the psychological and the paranormal helps to keep the film grounded in a gritty realism. The Messenger doesn’t seem to be set in one specific British town, maybe leaning a bit towards London with the journalist’s problems, but it manages to capture a side of British life that could be anywhere. Specifically in the flashbacks, anyone who’s grown up in a poor neighbourhood, in a troubled home, can relate to Jack’s upbringing.

messengerdvd3The Messenger is a slow boiling drama, there’s a lot of brooding as Jack fights against the task he’s been burdened to shoulder and I can imagine that some people would just want him to get on with it but it’s a film about struggle. It’s a haunting film but Jack isn’t just haunted by ghosts. I felt that while his mental state is questioned, it doesn’t go about painting mentally ill people as dangerous, something that often happens when mental illness is mixed with horror tropes.

If you’re looking for something dark and brooding, The Messenger is a good film to watch. It’s not really a film for casual viewing. If you ever wondered what would happen to the kid from The Sixth Sense after the credits rolled, then The Messenger is a much watch.

7/10

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