Monday, April 18, 2016

American (Zombie) Gothic: Maggie

An almost ridiculously long time ago now, I heard the news that A new zombie movie was coming out that, A, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, and, B, was planned as a drama about a father and his dying daughter. An aficionado of sorts, when it comes to things zombie, I confess I was both titillated and confused (in equal parts). As most anyone must have been who has a basic, media-literate understanding of the words "zombie," "drama," and "Schwarzenegger."

It's been well over a year, but I finally had the chance to give Maggie her shot. Let me put this out there right away: Maggie is not a horror movie. Zombies have been a part of our culture long enough now that they are, truly, their own cultural icon. While it's granted most movies, books, and TV shows featuring zombies are indeed of the horror genre, the reality is, they've grown above and beyond that narrow label. Or would, if we would let it. While we certainly have zombie comedies, for example, even they tend to stay planted pretty firmly in the realm of horror. The obvious reason for this -- fandom -- has been more or less enough to keep media companies from taking the zombie too far away from where Box Office wisdom had it firmly planted.

So kudos, first of all, to the team behind Maggie, simply for having the guts to explore where else this particular bogey could hide. Drama was an interesting choice, but the right one -- if for no other reason than the very proliferation of zombie movies that made such a risk possible. Even as a fan of zombie media, it must be admitted that far too often the zombie movie, like most horror media, revels in death nearly to the point of glorification without often pausing long enough to allow the audience to soak in the horror. We settle for the cheaper thrills -- what's behind the curtain? Who's that in the woods over there? -- and ignore the most substantial elements of the fear these movies allow us to explore.

With Maggie, we get something different. We get a movie that, at its heart, is about a father's love for his child. It's not merely a movie about a girl (Breslin) who becomes a zombie. It's about a girl who is dying slowly, watching her body and her mind slowly betray her, worrying simultaneously about what's happening to her and what it's doing to her family -- emotionally and physically. It's about a father (Schwarzenegger) watching his daughter go through all these things and worrying about whether he ultimately will have the courage to let her go. It's a beautiful -- if depressing -- story, and one oddly, uniquely suited for exploration within the realm of zombie cinema.

So, zombie aficionados, I'm not really sad at all to say there are no exploding heads in this picture. In spite of both the subject matter and the headlining actor, there is little in the way of gore, and a surprisingly minuscule body count. Because that's not what this is about.

The traditional zombie movies shows you that the walking undead are scary and dangerous.

Maggie, with its dark social commentary and moments of slow, quiet terror, has the guts to show you what truly makes the zombie horrifying.

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