Sunday, May 24, 2015

Advert Artwork: The Harlem Globetrotters

At Flashbak: Robot Empire -- Topper's Ding-a-Ling Robots of the 1970s

At Flashbak this week, I also posted about some vintage toy robots of the 1970s: Topper's Ding-A-Ling line.  I discovered these at yard and garage sales of the disco decade, and have loved them ever since.

"In the late 1960s, a toy company named Topper master-minded a toy robot takeover of the universe. In 1970, Topper introduced the Ding-A-Lings: six-inch tall robots with distinct personalities that -- thanks to removable battery operated back-packs -- could walk and move under their own power.

Topper’s robots were designed according to their positions or vocations in a robot world.  There was Claw, who could grab things with giant pincers.  And there was Fireman, who could squirt water from a hose. 

And then there was Policeman, Chef, a boxer named Rocky, and the super-intelligent Answer-Man. 

These tiny robots were colorful and individual in appearance, and they inhabited a fully imagined universe.  For example, Topper manufactured several track sets like the “Super Return Space Skyway” by which the robots could traverse their prospective metropolis. The robots could hook on to the tracks of their space highways, and ride them right-side-up, or upside-down."

At Flashbak: Cardboard Universe -- The Amsco Adventure Playsets of the 1970s

Another Flashbak I posted this week looks at some of my favorite toys of the disco decade -- the Amsco cardboard playsets.

"In the early-to-mid 1970s -- before Star Wars (1977) premiered -- Amsco (A Milton Bradley company) produced four colossal cardboard playsets that are highly-prized and extremely expensive collectibles today, all from popular franchises of that era.

These giant Amsco playsets came in large, colorful rectangular boxes, were constructed from "durable" cardboard and were "fun to assemble." 

Actually, if I recall right, they were all actually time-consuming and somewhat difficult to assemble, but that hardship was part of the fun too.

My favorite set of the bunch is the one I still own, and which has a place of honor in my home office.

It comes from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's outer space epic, Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977) and is a diorama of Moonbase Alpha. The playset consists of a landing pad, two Eagle transporters, two atomic charges (for detonating asteroids that are on a collision course...), and a cross-section of Moonbase Alpha's computerized interior, including Main Mission tower. It even features an elevator that spans all three levels.

The set also includes several cardboard “heroes” to take on adventures, made in the likenesses of Martin Landau's Commander John Koenig, Barbara Bain's Dr. Helena Russell and Barry Morse's Professor Victor Bergman. Alas, the set was produced pre-Maya, so there's no Catherine Schell figure.

What's great about the set, however, is that there is at least a nod to accuracy. For instance, three cardboard figures here are "aliens" featured in specific Year One episodes: Peter Cushing's Raan, from "Missing Link,” The cyclops monster from "Dragon's Domain" (arguably the most popular episode of the series), and even what could be the scorched Anton Zoref (Ian McShane) from “Force of Life.”

The second Amsco Cardboard Playset recreates the universe of the original Planet of the Apes films and TV series (from 1974).  Here you get a "Cave of the Doomsday Bomb," which is straight out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1971). The Alpha-Omega bomb is perched right on its altar, if you build the set correctly.

At Flashbak: You Have Been Summoned to Galactic Court (Space Heroes on Trial)

At Flashbak this week, I remembered ten instances in which TV's space heroes stood trial.

"Even in space, the ultimate enemy is…the court system.  Throughout science fiction TV history, the greatest heroes of all time have faced this litigious menace, standing trial and running up against a judicial system bent on destroying them.

To put it another way, the success of Perry Mason (1957 – 1966) has had an undeniable ripple effect on space adventure TV, as odd as that seems. 

Even in the final frontier, there are judges, juries, witnesses, and attorneys.  Even in the distant reaches of space and time, viewers are fated, it seems, to hear such exclamations as “objection, your honor!” or warning phrases like “this is highly irregular….but I’ll allow it.”

Gazing across the space TV canon, one can see how every space hero worth his or her salt has been wrongly accused of a crime, and cast into alien and draconian brands of justice and punishment. Seeing so many episodes featuring space age heroes standing trial, decade-after-decade, franchise after franchise, one sees that these entertainments are pondering the shape and breadth of justice in a new setting; one of technological breakthroughs and new morality.

Below are at least ten occasions in sci-fi TV history in which heroes went before a jury of peers to stand judgment for their “crimes.” 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Valley of the Dinosaurs: "Volcano" (September 28, 1974)

The Butlers and Gorak’s cave family worry that a volcano -- known by the villagers as “Magog" -- is soon going to erupt.  

The only problem is that they can’t tell for certain, because the Tribal Council has forbidden anyone from ascending the mountain and troubling “Magog,” which it treats as a living creature, a God.

Mr. Butler realizes he must disobey orders, and go up the volcano anyway, without permission. Gorak goes with him, in defiance of the law, and the two men discover that, indeed, the volcano is ready to erupt.

Now they must return to the council whose orders they have ignored, and ask for help in diverting the lava flow away from the village and the family cave…

“Volcano,” this week’s episode of Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974), focuses again on two key series concepts: team-work and science.  

The cave-family and the Butlers join forces (eventually with the villagers, too…) to prevent lava from destroying their homes. Meanwhile, Mr. Butler -- former science teacher -- explains in detail such concepts as a compass, and how to split stone using spikes and water. 

Unlike Isis or Shazam, however, the scientific and social lessons of “Volcano” don’t hit one over the head, or become the focus of the show. Instead, action is highlighted.  This week, there’s a last minute escape from the lava using a Butler-built pedal-boat, as well as a race against time to beat the volcano. There’s also an interlude with a weird dodo-like creature.

It’s funny to think about, but “Volcano” also stresses -- on at least two occasions -- how it is sometimes necessary to break the law to achieve positive results.  

Butler notes that fact, and later, Gorok does too.  The underlying idea is good: that science and knowledge are sometimes more important than adherence to rules or dogma (especially unsubstantiated religious beliefs), but by the same token it’s weird for a kid’s show to advocate law-breaking.   I guess the appropriate idea here is: question authority; question those things that are not supported by fact, or logic.

Next week: "Pteranodon."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Secrets of Isis: "The Cheerleader" (October 2, 1976)

In “The Cheerleader,” Ann (Laurette Spang) is desperate to head the school’s cheering team, and plots to steal the answer key to a chemistry test to keep her academic scores high. She lures Tut out of Ms. Thomas’s (Joanna Cameron) room, and Rennie has to find the missing raven. When Rennie returns, Ann has copied all the answers.

Then, to exacerbate her sin, Ann frames the top cheerleader on the squad, Wynn (Colleen Camp) for cheating on the test.  While the academic board debates what should happen to Wynn, however, Ms. Thomas looks into the matter and determines the truth.

When Ann is nearly caught for cheating, she flees in her car.  But after a strange turn of events, the car nearly runs her down on a hillside, necessitating a visit from Mighty Isis.

Battlestar Galactica’s (1978-1979) Cassiopeia -- Laurette Spang -- makes quite a splash in The Secrets of Isis, playing a ruthless, manipulative and scheming cheerleader.  She’s a good actress, and Spang makes one both loathe and then feel sorry for Ann, a girl who “wants everything,” according to Wynn, but who is not “willing to work for anything.”  

The result?  “She could end up with nothing.”

Despite a good guest appearance by Spang, “The Cheerleader” certainly raises some issues of continuity in terms of the series. 

 For example, the first half of the episode involves the fact that Ann frees Tut, Isis’s bird, and that the bird becomes lost, and later endangered in the great outdoors.  In her first appearance in this segment, in fact, Isis must save Tut from a wild dog.

But we already know from other episodes that Tut flies out of the lab quite a bit, and can handle himself just fine.  

He flew into a junkyard in one episode from the first season (to rescue Cindy Lee), and had to go find and recruit Captain Marvel in another episode, late in that season.  

So why is he suddenly helpless and at risk in the great outdoors?

Secondly, this episode seems to point out just how little the faculty actually does at Ms. Thomas’s school.  While Rick and Andrea walk the grounds working and fretting, they leave a student --- Rennie -- to type up the chemistry test answer key.  Isn’t this something they should be doing, rather than requiring a student to do it? (And Rennie is in the class, isn’t she?  How does that work if she prepares the exam’s answer keys?)

Isis saves the day (and Ann…) in “The Cheerleader” when she levitates the cheerleader far from the ground, and lets the runaway car go by her.  The superhero also manages to make the offending wild dog disappear, so she can retrieve Tut, and keep him safe from harm.  These powers are ones we’ve seen, in one form or another, on the series before. She used levitation in "Dreams of Flight," for example.

Next week: "Year of the Dragon."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Found Footage Friday: The Atticus Institute (2015)

(Beware of spoilers)

The new found-footage movie The Atticus Institute (2015) is just the kind of effort in this sub-genre that I really enjoy and appreciate. Specifically, it expands the definition or parameters of “found footage” a bit. 

The film is structured as a modern-day documentary that explores a strange event in the year 1976, and isn’t just an assemblage of someone’s raw footage, discovered in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or catastrophic event.

Instead, the found footage of the bicentennial year is only a part of the visual and narrative tapestry.

The remainder of the film consists of talking head interviews with the survivors of the Atticus experiment today, in 2015, and B-roll footage of those involved, often consisting of nicely staged (and aged) photographs of the primary players.

The film’s opening credits are also played over a camera tour of the facility in modern times, abandoned, forgotten and in ruins.  This tour of the ruins -- a kind of archaeological curiosity in some weird way -- creates a powerful juxtaposition with the documentary footage we see unfold throughout the film.  

The visuals of the montage seem to mirror the progress of the experiment itself, revealing to audiences how a place of life and possibilities becomes a place of the dead, and was left forgotten.

Written and directed by Chris Sparling, The Atticus Institute is also a strong and nuanced character piece.  The various “talking heads” seen on screen -- including those played by Harry Groener and John Rubinstein -- discuss what is going on in the life of the film’s ostensible protagonist, Dr. Henry West (William Mapother). But the pictures subtly tell a different and highly intriguing story, one which the viewer must assemble and thread together with his or her own eyes.

Finally, there’s also a nice philosophical through-line in The Atticus Institute about the military mentality, and the desire to weaponize everything, even to the detriment of the human race. On one hand, it is interesting to connect this sub-plot to the events of the mid-1970s, when trust in government was at an all-time low because of the Watergate Scandal and the failures in Vietnam. 

On the other hand, the message plays as relevant today, as our military develops ever more fearsome and sophisticated ways of delivering death to our enemies.  Again, going back to the tour of the Atticus ruins that accompanies the opening credits, it’s fascinating to ponder how the two (parallel) time periods of The Atticus Institute suggest that if we don’t remember history, we are doomed to repeat it.

I’ve been on sort of a bad-streak with found footage movies of late, to my dismay. The Houses that October Built (2014), The Pyramid (2014) and the nutzo-gonzo Daylight (2013) didn’t do much to buoy my case about the sub-genre’s potential and longevity. 

So it’s a relief to report that The Atticus Institute is an intelligent and creepy addition to the found-footage canon, and one wholly worthy of recommendation.  There are a few jump scares in the film, but The Atticus Institute’s true success rests in the way it engages and galvanizes our attention and interest. 

Before long, we -- like the film’s haunted main characters -- begin to connect every event, random or not, to the horrors happening at the institute…and imagining worse ones yet to come. A strong atmosphere of dread and anticipatory anxiety is thus forged, and The Atticus Institute makes the most of it.

“We finally had the proof, not another hoax.”

A documentary about the Atticus Institute and the devastating events of late 1976 involves several affected individuals, including the children and wife of Dr. Henry West (Mapother).  Mapother was a renowned and respected scientist who in the early seventies, with his friend Dr. Henault (Groener) committed the Institute to a study of the paranormal.

It was a long, difficult slog, and the first psychic “prodigy” examined by the scientists proved to be a hoax. 

But one day, a woman named Judith Winstead (Rya Kihlstedt) arrived at the institute and promptly demonstrate incredible, and then terrifying abilities.

Over time, the scientists in the institute began to grow afraid of Judith and her always-developing powers.  

Some came to fear that her powers were not psychic, but a result of demonic possession. Another doctor, Marcus Wheeler (John Rubinstein) contacted the military in hopes of better containing and understanding Judith’s powers.

But the military proved single-minded, hoping to harness Winstead -- and the entity possessing her -- for use as a battlefield weapon. 

The documentary charts the tug of war between the military, the scientists, and the Devil, and records the only chronicled case of demonic possession in American history.

“You’re inviting bad things into your life.”

The key to an understanding of The Atticus Institute, and its final twist, involves paying close attention to the first-hand testimony of Judith’s sister, and then watching the moment-by-moment disintegration of Dr. West.  '

In particular, Judith’s sister reports that Judith became more and more disengaged from her life with the family, spending time alone in her room.  She practically disappeared from life. And it was then, after so much solitude, that she began to develop strange powers, or demonstrate the incipient stages of demonic possession, depending on what you choose to believe.

But watch The Atticus Institute with a close eye and make note of how West starts out as a galvanizing main character, calling the shots and directing the research. Then, after Judith is introduced, we see him less and less frequently, until by the third act, he seems almost invisible.  We see him a few times in his office...and he doesn't seem well.  "It's like a shadow," he says of a dark presence at one point, "but it's not me."

When you connect the two “dots” (the testimony of the sister, and West’s diminishing presence in the “documentary”) you can begin to intuit what the demon is up to, and what, precisely it wants. 

I should note, this connection is never brought out in dialogue, even once. Instead, The Atticus Institute credits its audience with intelligence, and creates a story through visualization, and loose connections. Pay close heed, and see for yourself how West's journey mirrors Judith's.

On a more concrete level, I appreciate how the film explores an aspect of the “supernatural” that is rarely discussed.  I’ll use The Amityville Horror as an example. There, the family experiences a bunch of weird things -- flies in the house, bloody walls, foul odors, cold air, disappearing cash, and more.  But the Lutzs’ overwhelming fear in that case connected all the incidents together into one cohesive terror. Everything that was slightly alarming (like the wino who showed up at the kitchen door unannounced…) became a product of demonic interference.  Leaky faucets, loose doors, and unsealed windows were the work...of the devil.

The Atticus Institute makes an interesting case here that once the scientists admit they are “scared,” they too start to willy-nilly connect every bad thing in their lives to the actions and behavior of Judith.

This is not a small thing.  

The first portion of the film is all about the way that the scientists at Atticus scrupulously avoid making unwarranted and unsupported connections.  Even when they believed they had evidence for psychic powers, they understood that they also had to contend with “lucky guesses” and “false positives.”  

There’s also a subplot early in the film about a fraud, about a man claiming to be psychic who, in fact, uses magnetic manipulation to appear gifted.  He almost succeeds too, and that’s the point.  This kind of work cannot be undertaken lightly, with wild conclusions being drawn. Every result must be checked, double checked, and triple checked.

But after Judith enters the picture and proves so frightening and so powerful, the scientists lose their sense of objectivity and rationality, and their fear begets more fear and more fear. 

Exhibit A in this kind of madness involves Henault, who in one compelling interview session tells the story of picking up a paper clip from the laboratory floor, and putting it in his pocket.  What use that paper clip comes to is bizarre and terrifying.  

But is it random? 

Or is the accident it causes a result of Judith’s deliberate efforts and manipulation? 

It’s an interesting conceit about the way the human mind works, and more than that, a splendid avenue by which to explore horror.  As I often write about in my books and on the blog, we aren’t scared of the things we know.  We’re scared of the things we don’t know; the things that we are uncertain about. 

In this case, significant tension arises from the fact that Judith’s abilities may be wildly over-estimated…or not.  We can’t be sure.  Even Henault can’t be sure, and you can see the fear and uncertainty inscribed in every crack and crevice on his expressive face.

There are other moments of pure terror in The Atticus Institute, but to feel it, you have to be engaged, you have to be thinking.  The terror is cerebral in nature, as you start to play out things in your head.

Sometimes, it is more overt too.  The military attempts to make Judith into a weapon, and conducts one experiment in which they attempt to have her, remotely, put words in the mouth of a soldier in an isolated booth.  

When those words are revealed, your skin will crawl because they change everything about the nature of the Atticus experiment, and about our understanding of who the subject of the experiment really is.

The Atticus Institute ends in a way that will provoke and alarm audiences, and I must confess, my first thought was that I wanted a sequel. That there was more story left to tell here. Even forty years after the events of '76.

You know your found-footage horror movie is hitting all the right notes if, as it ends, you’re thinking that you want to see the next chapter of its story.  

I think I know what became of Henry West, but The Atticus Institute sparked my curiosity and engaged my imagination. 

This strange and unnerving tale thus speaks to the real potential of the found footage format. One character in the documentary, late in the action, suggests that even by watching this movie, you are "inviting bad things into your life."

But The Atticus Institute's dedication to cerebral horror and subtlety suggests otherwise. So go ahead, invite this carefully-crafted, well-made horror movie into your life.

Movie Trailer: The Atticus Institute (2015)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Maggie (2015)

(Beware of spoilers)

At this point, a full decade or so since the sub-genre re-ignited in a significant way, we have seen virtually every kind of zombie movie possible.  And on TV, The Walking Dead affords us our weekly dose of zombie apocalypse action too.

On one hand, it might be tempting to gaze at all these zombie productions and yell “overkill,” or some such thing.

I see it differently, however. 

The surfeit of zombie films -- in conjunction with the rise of indie/DIY horror -- has permitted the genre to expand in new and unexpected directions.  

If there weren’t approximately a hundred variations of the zombie film being made each and every year, would we have the creative space for perfect little cinematic grace notes like The Battery (2014), or this film, Maggie (2015)?

I suspect not.

By now, the parameters of the zombie plague are so well-known -- don’t get bitten, shoot the zombies in the head, etc. -- that some movies have chosen to innovate not by going big and epic, but by doing the opposite; by exploring the world of the walking dead on a small and intimate basis.

Directed by Henry Hobson, Maggie chooses this route. 

The film has received mixed reviews thus far, and I believe the negative reviews have more to do with audience expectations than any particular quality of the film itself. 

Some people think of zombies and they want another World War Z (2013) or some such effort: a gory war story told on a humongous scale. 

Maggie is pretty clearly not that thing.

On the contrary, it’s a sweet, unassuming film about a young girl who is going to die from the zombie plague, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), and her heart-broken, soul-broken father, Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

In true Hamlet-like fashion, Wade is paralyzed about what to do for Maggie.  He can’t bear to kill her, or rob her of a minute of her life.

But nor can he allow her to continue suffering, or become a danger to others…including his wife and other children.

Tear off Maggie’s genre elements and what you get here is the simple story of a child with a fatal disease, a child with no possible future.  Her father wants her to experience that future, but knows it is not to be.  

But if he can give her one more day, or a day and a half of that future…isn’t that a victory?

Maggie is nothing more and nothing less than the above-description suggests. It’s a gray, grim character piece that happens to be highlighted by some surprisingly-effective acting from action star, Schwarzenegger.  He doesn’t do his standard action man shtick here: a wink and a gag, coupled with his unmatchable charisma and screen presence. 

Instead, we see the character’s crushed heart, and total incapacity to resolve Maggie’s dilemma. 

As is often the case, it behooves you, going in to a film like Maggie to know what sort of film you’re watching.  This isn’t a decapitation-a-minute gore fest.  This isn’t an action film at all. Maggie is a sensitive and at times heart-wrenching drama about a family that could be yours…or mine.

On those grounds, Maggie is beautiful effort, an elegiac father-daughter love story.

“You shouldn’t have brought me back.”

In modern America, a necro-ambulist plague infects much of the populace.  Urban areas are hardest hit, but some rural areas remain largely unscathed. The U.S. government has established a protocol for dealing with those infected; those who have been bitten by the walking dead. The suffering are allowed to go home with their loved ones for a time, and then -- when “the turn” goes into full effect -- are shipped off to quarantine camps, where they will die.

Weeks after she ran away, young Maggie Vogel (Breslin) is found by her farmer father, Wade (Schwarzenegger) in a hospital ward for the infected.  She’s been bitten on the arm, and it’s only a matter of time before she will die. 

A kindly doctor informs Wade that first Maggie will lose her appetite, and then she’ll get it back…but for human flesh.  A sign of the “turn” is an increased ability to smell…meat. Worse, Maggie’s disease is progressing more rapidly than normal.  She has very little time left…

Wade takes Maggie home to the family farm, where her step-mother, Caroline (Joely Richardson) is understandably anxious about her presence.  The Vogels’ two younger children are sent away with relatives during the duration of Maggie’s care.

Over time, Wade is forced to confront his responsibility vis-à-vis his daughter.  A neighbor has kept her daughter and husband -- both infected -- at home too, but they escape and present a danger to the Vogels.  Wade is forced to kill them outright, rather than let them attack.  He is warned by a local sheriff not to allow the same thing in his house; not to keep Maggie at home so long that she is a danger to others.

Meanwhile, Maggie confronts the idea that she has no future. She goes out for an evening with friends, including a boy who is bound for quarantine, and dreads the possibility.  Soon Caroline leaves the house, and Maggie watches as Wade agonizes over his choices.

Then, Maggie’s “turn” begins. Her eyes go black, and she begins to sense those around her not as people, but as food.

The time for action is coming, but Wade can’t bring himself to do what he must…

“Think about what you did today. And what you may have to do tomorrow.”

There are very few fireworks in Maggie.  The film is not about zombies overrunning our infrastructure, or laying siege to our cities and communities.  Instead, the film adopts a very simple premise.  Early on, a physician tells Wade what to expect, and then we follow Maggie through the stages of the plague. Remembering the doctor’s words, we understand where Maggie “is” on the plague continuum.  There is no happy ending and, indeed, no expectation of one.

One of the best scenes in the film sees that physician talking frankly with Wade about his options.  This in-mourning dad can take his daughter immediately to quarantine, a kind of hell-on-Earth death-camp.  He can give her a government-made death cocktail to kill her, but she will suffer immensely because the cocktail is painful. 

Or Wade can end it quickly, with a bullet to the head, ending Maggie’s suffering once and for all.

Not one of those options is a good one, pretty plainly. And Wade spends the majority of the film waiting, attempting to decide on his course of actions.  He waits and he waits, and Maggie grows worse. 

He waits because he can’t bear for her to die.

He waits because he can’t before her to live in her condition.  

As the father, I sympathized completely with Wade’s inaction. He knows he is going to lose his beloved child, but he doesn’t want to take one minute of life from that child.  He wants to wait till the last possible moment, till the moment when her humanity is eclipsed, and he knows she must die. 

But, moment after moment, encounter after encounter, he finds that there is some of “Maggie” still left in that “turning” zombie. Every time he sees that human quality, he -- again -- can’t act.  As viewers, we begin to doubt, frankly, that he is capable of doing what everyone tells him he must do.

I don’t know, honestly, that I could do any better, in the same situation.

My wife tells me she would choose option three for our son -- get it over with quickly and painlessly -- and then turn the gun on herself rather than live with the heart-break. Her reasoning is that it is wrong to let someone we love suffer.  I hear and understand that rationale, and perhaps I’m a coward, or simply weak.  But I don’t think I could pull the trigger on my son until I knew, 100% that there was no other option; that my child was really and truly lost. 

And even then, I don’t know if I could do it.

Maggie is the kind of film that makes you consider such questions. What would you do if your child contracted a plague, and was a danger to others?

On a more mundane level, what would you do if your child contracted, simply, a terminal illness? 

How would you talk to that child about the elephant in the room: the idea that he or she simply has run out of future? The parent-child bond is one about learning and preparing, conveying knowledge to the young.  Suddenly, that contract is broken, because the child will never grow up, never carry the responsibility to be an adult, and go through life. What’s left to talk about? To connect over?

We see in one scene, as Wade focuses on the past, and the way he and Maggie’s mother met.  Shared history is the only thing left when the future is gone.

Other characters in the film, including Caroline, periodically warn Wade that Maggie isn’t herself anymore.  And even Maggie coaches her Dad on what he must do. 

“You have to do it,” she tells him.

Yet still, Wade can’t bring himself to act.  Perhaps there is a part of him that would rather die with Maggie than live without her.  Again -- and as I think my wife was trying to express in her own way -- I sympathize with that instinct.

Overall, I appreciate how sensitively and intelligently (but not cloyingly…) the movie explores its themes. In particular, it seemed to recognize a key fact about human nature.

You are always certain how strong you are...until it is your loved ones who are in pain.  And then certainty flies out the window.  Maggie captures that notion splendidly.

Maggie presents a haunting scenario to think about, and Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a remarkable performance here.  He prowls the film with a hang-dog expression, and an air of defeat.  I remember being none-too-impressed with his performance as a grieving husband and Dad in End of Days (1999).  I didn’t feel he had the depth, there, to nail that fallen character.  But here, he absolutely nails the essence of his character, Wade.  He carries an invisible weight on his shoulders, and there’s a sweet gentleness to his interactions with Maggie.  Wade is never disgusted, horrified or scared by her. But he is a wreck, facing what for him is the end of his universe, the death of his child.  I have never seen Schwarzenegger give such an internal performance before, and his work here is accomplished and award-worthy.

Maggie’s denouement, finds an intriguing answer for Wade’s existential dilemma.  I don’t want to give it away, but it stems from Maggie’s strength, and --as it should -- from her love for her father.  Maggie’s final act in this life is one that takes her father’s experience fully into account, and goes from there.

What finally emerges then, is a portrait of a loving family facing a horrible situation.  The love that Wade and Maggie share for one another is the thing that makes the pain so difficult to contend with, but in the final analysis it is also the quality that gives both individuals the strength to go on and do what they must.

In terms of its imagery, Maggie exists in a kind of de-saturated world of gray, where all joy and hope has been chemically extracted from the visuals.  In a world without a future, how can the sky, the landscape, or the people be anything but gray?  The film’s visuals are quite lovely at times, though for some stretches it looks like the Vogel’s live on Matthew McConaughey’s farm from Interstellar (2014)

Maggie is a sad -- nay grim -- film.  Yet it is one I wholeheartedly recommend. You’ve seen zombies of all types before – fast and slow, brain-eating or not -- but Maggie’s gift to us is worth noting.  The film takes the world of the zombie apocalypse and makes it feel personal and close in a way that few genre films have managed.

Home is where the heart -- and Hell -- is. 

Movie Trailer: Maggie (2015)