When I watched my first Zombie film, Night of The Living Dead (1968), I had no idea I would be hooked on the genre for life. I also had no idea that Zombies would become fashionable, that the term “Zombie Apocalypse” would become commonplace, that there would be theme days designed around them (yes, you can have your very own Zombie experience), articles online advising how to survive such an apocalypse (while a certain teenager I know almost eagerly awaits one), and websites and forums dedicated to this supposed eventuality.
I’ve seen countless zombie films and TV shows since then, some great, some forgettable, and pretty much all of them following the same or similar paths, or at least told from the perspective of horrified survivors fleeing – or trapped by – the flesh eaters.
Maggie (2015) is different, and all the more horrific for it. Written by John Scott 3, and directed by Henry Hobson, they should be congratulated for their efforts. The one thing about most zombie movies I’ve seen is the obvious “that-could-never-happen” vibe about them. We watch, we enjoy, but we are safe in the knowledge that it’s never actually going to happen. Probably.
This film flips the zombie movie genre on its head, and gives us an intimate, uncomfortable and strangely authentic look at what it would be like to become a zombie, slowly. With hardly a zombie attack in sight, this is a devastating portrayal of a woman who cannot escape what is happening to her. She is deteriorating; losing touch with her identity; ceasing to be.
Maggie, played by Abigail Vogel, has been bitten. A necroambulist virus pandemic has swept America, and one of the flesh eaters has infected Maggie. The difference with this zombie transformation is that it’s relatively slow, and doesn’t require your death and subsequent awakening to take effect. The infection spreads and changes you over the space of several weeks. The transformation is agonisingly slow, with various phases to be watched for and dreaded. And therein lies the horror.
It connects cleverly with our general fear of sickness and death, demonstrating the reality of having the worst kind of terminal illness, and the horror that must envelop those who discover the next inevitable milestone of that illness has been reached. This is what we witness with Maggie, and we are dragged along that journey with her. She does the right thing; to protect her family she leaves them, telling her father not to come looking for her.
I’m not a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, not least for his previously limited acting range, but even I was slightly captivated by his understated performance as Maggie’s father, Wade. His face has become wizened and soft; his expressions, naturalistic. We believe he is Maggie’s father; we believe he loves his daughter, and we feel his anguish. Wade seeks out Maggie, finding her in a hospital for the infected, and brings her home to live out her final weeks.
I’ve mentioned the authenticity of this film. It is also very raw. I watched the decline of Maggie, and started to feel afraid. Not in the safe, afraid way I watch most horror movies, but with the type of fear you have when you watch a documentary, or a news article about something that can actually happen. I found myself strangely worrying about the possibility of getting this virus, of being bitten, of becoming a zombie. That’s the mark of a good horror film; the braces that suspend disbelief so expertly hidden, you start to experience real fear; real worries.
Maggie is desperate, and it oozes from her, both figuratively and literally. When she breaks her finger in the backyard and the black gunk of her infection seeps from her body, I felt that hopelessness and desolation right along with her. I found myself massaging my own fingers, checking my arms for signs of infections, for a deterioration in the skin, maybe an odd maggot or two.
And so what is the prognosis for those infected? First, they must declare themselves to the authorities, and at an appropriate point, the teetering point, they must be taken into quarantine, where eventual euthanisation is the order of the day.
The film induced in me a pity for zombies. Maggie’s neighbours are infected, have not declared themselves to the authorities, and are wandering in their grounds, driven mad by the disease, motivated by their newfound ability to smell human flesh as food, and an uncontrollable urge to taste the same. It is not their fault, they are victims of the virus. In Maggie’s post apocalyptic world, the infected are treated inhumanely. Their end is definitely not pretty.
And so we watch as Maggie tries to grasp the remnants of a normal life whilst coping with the unimaginable. Only this film makes it entirely imaginable, brings it into reality, but without the melodrama of other films of the genre. We watch as she goes out with her friends, talks openly about the illness that is killing her, and shares a kiss with a previous boyfriend, also infected.
This is a desperate film, and I was hooked from the first few minutes. It is a film about a battle that inevitably will be lost. It is also a very poignant film that left me with a sense of sadness. It has an honesty about it that will change the way you view zombies. It will fill you with empathy for those creatures previously feared and detested. Perhaps most satisfying of all was the disquieting unpredictability of the ending. I was satisfied with how it all turned out. A different ending might have disappointed.
You have to watch this film. Give it a go, go on. And would you do me a favour? Make sure you watch it with the lights off. And then come and tell me what you thought of it.