Maggie is a film about a girl who returns to her father’s house. She has been bitten by a zombie and is awaiting death.
I shouldn’t hate Maggie, it feels like a film made specifically for me.
Arnie was my childhood hero.
I love zombie films, I love them so much I made one. It’s no classic and I’ve made my peace with that.
Maggie is a bad film.
One thing people always say when talking about films is “It’s subjective”.
Here’s the thing, it’s not subjective.
Some things are just bad.
Maggie is no exception; it is terrible and what’s more, I can prove it to you. So read on if you want.
5: Unclear rules
Usually, a zombie film will establish the rules. The rules aren’t complicated. You get bitten, you die you come back: simple.
Maggie does have this; however, it leaves a couple of things vague.
Characters make frequent references to how contagiousness of the disease. No one seems all that bothered. Is it contagious or not?
There’s something about crops. It’s not clear precisely if the infection can spread to crops.
If your audience doesn’t know the rules, then they don’t know the stakes. If they don’t know the stakes, then they don’t care.
4: No central conflict
There’s no conflict at the centre of the film. Maggie comes back to the home to die. People, for the most part, are OK with that. There is a stepmother character who is concerned but is supportive.
There’s a sheriff character who voices concerns but isn’t a threat.
Everyone is kind of friendly and supportive. Good for the characters but it is bloody boring to watch.
The beauty of the zombie film is you have characters in a pressure cooker. For the next hour and a half, you turn up the heat.
When zombies get in at the end of a film its usually because someone inside has let them. Sometimes someone has had enough.
In Dawn of the Dead, a group of bikers storm the barricades. In Day of the Dead, an infected man lets them in.
Maggie has none of this. Everyone kind of agrees to get along, making for tedious scenes devoid of drama.
3: Maggie is Shallow
I love zombie films. It breaks my heart when I see one made by someone who doesn’t really get what zombies mean.
You might think zombie films are simple.
Someone gets bitten, they die come back as a zombie and then others have to work out what to do.
Now, on the one hand, you’re right. On the other hand, there’s potential to add depth and meaning.
A zombie can just mean a zombie, but the best zombie films have the monster standing in for something else.
Night of the Living Dead the zombies are analogous of racism. How we dehumanize our fellow man because they are different.
Dawn of the Dead the zombie’s stand-in for rampant consumerism.
Day of the Dead (my personal favourite) it’s all about has man gone too far. Science vs religion.
There’s a reason George Romero is considered the daddy of the zombie genre. He understood the potential of the ghouls.
The meaning doesn’t have to be all that deep.
In my own zombie film Deadville, the zombies could be seen to stand in for that fear of letting go of someone you love. Whether or not you pick up on, that is your choice.
What I’m trying to get across is that when I was writing Deadville, I wasn’t just thinking of the zombies as zombies.
In Maggie, the zombies stand for zombies. When Maggie wears large sunglasses, it resembled celebs in rehab. I thought they were going to try and make some comment about addiction.
Nope, the zombies are zombies.
2: The hero is robbed of the choice
Arnie is the hero of the movie.
You put Arnold Schwarzenegger in a film he is the hero. Abagail Breslin is a fine actress, the movie is named after her character; however, she is not the hero.
One of the generic tropes in zombie films is it is an act of love to shoot a friend or family member who has turned.
It’s one of the reasons why I thought the ending of Shaun of the Dead was a bit of a cop-out.
Spoilers for my own film but I end the story on the will he or won’t he. I think it’s clear but many people who have watched love to ask me what happened. I’ll never tell.
Maggie, on the other hand, doesn’t even bother paying homage. Arnie, our hero, is robbed of the choice.
If you’ve read my Simplified Story System, you will know that hero choice is the most critical thing a hero can do.
In the film, the now zombified Maggie comes down and for some reason doesn’t bite Arnie. Instead, she goes to the roof, jumps off and dies.
It feels anticlimactic and asks the question of what exactly was the point of it all?
1: Maggie is Unbalanced
The lack of balance in this film is the main reason Maggie the movie stinks worse than Maggie the zombie.
What do I mean by unbalanced?
Instead of getting to the point in twenty minutes, they dilly dally and take forty. By that time, the audience has felt cheated and tuned out.
You can feel a bad falling apart by the forty-minute mark.
Why the forty-minute mark?
The first plot point happens at the forty-minute mark in a bad film. It still goes through the motions, in this case, the things go well section.
The same thing happens here.
After the first plot point, which is the police visit, we have a moment where the father and daughter connect. After that, Maggie goes for a final camp out with friends. This is all fine the only problem is the film is two thirds over.
That means the last thirty minutes feel rushed. In fact, it almost feels like Maggie ends halfway through.
In a better-paced film, this all could be better established. However, Maggie has squandered emotional investment. It has wasted our time in the first forty minutes.
Maggie rewrite suggestions
Not that I know much better. On some level, I have learned so much about writing and structure in the years since making Deadville. In fact, if you want to know what I have learned, check out this blog post.
There is potential in Maggie’s premise. If anything it is fertile ground for a remake or maybe a writer you could adjust things to avoid a lawsuit.
Here are my own suggestions for a rewrite, what you could do to give the story more impact:
- The daughter turning into a zombie has to mean something else. It could be helping someone get over addiction.
- Have the daughter sneak back home. It creates more suspense if she forces herself on the family.
- The neighbouring zombie family should be moved into the first twenty minutes. It could work as a foreshadowing.
- The dad has to make the choice of whether to kill her or not. She can’t commit suicide and rob the hero of the decision.
- Put in an image system that you can repeat. How about dad wants a hug from daughter? She resists but in the end, once she has turned, she embraces him, makes it bittersweet.
- Move the crop burning to the end. It symbolises a loss of hope, maybe his crops are immune, but he burns them out of spite.
- The suicide attempt could be a good mid-point.
- If you keep mentioning “Quarantine” and how bad it is you will have to go there at some point.
Anyway, these are some of the changes I would suggest. There is room for a terrific film. Maggie, however, is not the film.
Look, Maggie should have been good. I liked the premise, it sounded promising.
If you’re going to screw around with genre, understand what you’re messing around with. What impact will it have?
Some times clichés are clichés for a reason.