This is not a review. In fact, if you’re looking for a recap of the now on DVD/Bluray Schwarzenegger film MAGGIE, look elsewhere. What this is, for all intents and purposes, is something of an editorial, a reflection on why the presence of children in danger and what can sometimes come from that element is an important aspect of horror and dealing with a possible situation that nobody with children would ever want to think about. It’s biased, completely based on myself and my thoughts on the subject and will contain MANY spoilers, so if you have yet to see MAGGIE, THE MIST or any other films present in this, feel free to minimize this until seeing said films.
Growing up, I loved films full of crazy shit, the worst it could be, the more I liked it. My days were filled with punk rock, skateboarding and watching horror films. I really didn’t have much time girlfriends (I had them, but they were never as important to me as horror). and there wasn’t a single thing in life that I enjoyed more than watching fucked up stuff happen on screen. I was a fan of FACES OF DEATH, splatter films of the ’80s, Video Nasties, and everything in between. I didn’t care about human life much, my own included. I did what I wanted, when I wanted to and never gave a single thought to how it would affect anyone else. To say I was a punk ass kid would be an understatement. Like most things in life though, something tends to happen. What happened to me was pretty regular but also very profound: I had children. It wasn’t an instantaneous change, but one that happened with time. As time went on, I found myself falling in love with being a parent, there wasn’t anything in the world that would or even could rival that feeling. The little things in life began to change, my opinions on things changed. I found myself changing, or better yet, my taste in what bothered me had changed. The first time I noticed that change, was in 2005, when I sat down and watched Alexandre Aja’s HIGH TENSION for the first time. Had I seen that film prior to my daughter being in 2002, it would’ve made me grin from ear to ear. Hell, for the most part, it still did in 2005. It still does in 2015. Where I noticed a change, was when while sitting down and watching it, I found myself feeling absolutely gutted by the boy being gun-downed in the film. It did something to me that I found quite impossible to shake: it broke my heart for the first time in my life. As a parent, I felt the pain of thinking about somebody shooting my child, and I didn’t sleep that night, not because I was scared or anything like that, but because for the first time, I thought about how losing the one person in my life that I truly cared about more than myself would make me feel: empty. Soon after that, the same thing happened when I got around to finally watching both versions of Michael Hanke’s FUNNY GAMES. It hit hard when the two rich and maniacal preppy killers murdered the couple’s child. I found myself feeling both angry and hurt.
The most profound experience with these changing feelings I’m mentioning came in 2007, when I was on a date with a girl and I had the bright idea to take her to see Frank Darabont’s now classic film adaption of THE MIST. Familiar with the Stephen King story, I knew what I was getting into, but like all of us know, Darabont changed quite a few things about the story and gave horror fans what is, in my opinion, both the greatest and most heartbreaking ending of the last 20 years. While trapped inside the supermarket, Thomas Jane’s David Drayton character makes his young son Billy a promise: no matter what, he won’t let the creatures invading and killing people left and right kill him. It’s a moment in the film that I should have known would lead to a later moment in the film that would not only ruin any chances I might have had ending the night with some lovin from the date, but would cause me to feel more heartbroken and defeated than the divorce I had gone through earlier that year. When David, his son, and three other survivors finally escape from the supermarket, and that amazing song begins to play over the soundtrack, it’s such an eerie feeling, an indication that things aren’t heading in the right direction. First, David and Co. go to his house, where he finds his wife dead. They then drive as far as they can, up until the car runs out of gas. We, the audience hear the giant creature coming in the distance..this is where we begin to think that the gang of survivors might not make it, that the creature will get them..but..David made his son a promise. With only four bullets left, David does what no man should have to do. To save them (or he thinks), he shoots the three other survivors, before holding the gun up to his son, and as his son opens his eyes,…he kills his son. So distraught and unable to cope, David loses it, screaming and continually trying to shoot himself, but with no bullets, he exits the car and prepares himself to be killed by the monster..just when the military arrives, saving the day. David realizes that had he waiting not even two minutes, they all would have been rescued, but now, now he must live with the fact that he murdered his child. What parent would want to live with that fact? It left me with such an empty feeling that I found myself getting choked up walking out of the theater.
It was then that I realized that I just wasn’t the same person anymore. I wasn’t interested in seeing children being harmed or killed, that the “the crazier the better” mindset I had as a kid/teenager had faded away. I simply did not want to watch anything that made me feel like I could ever be put in that same situation and position. Sure there aren’t monsters around, but still…who knows what awaits us in life, what decisions we would have to make? I went out of my way to stay away from those films. I purposely refrained from watching INSIDE for a while, and when I did see that film, it also did a number on me, emotionally. When my friends I made the incredibly bad decision to watch A SERBIAN FILM, it was very quiet afterwards, my brother walked to his son who was in another room and hugged him. Some of the friends watching it left without saying goodbye, and I sat there, angry. Not upset, which I definitely was, but genuinely angry. I wanted to punch the filmmakers in the balls, something I hadn’t felt before. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II‘s baby-crushing scene at the end made me almost want to turn the film off and throw the DVD out of the window and into the trashcan. I just didn’t in me to go through that stuff. By the time that film had come out, I had a teenager and two little ones, all of which I adored with a passion. I couldn’t bring myself to think about that stuff.
It was only recently, when sitting down to experience the VOD release of the Arnold Schwarzenegger drama (yes, I said drama, there is NO action in this one, and it’s kind of wonderful) MAGGIE. Instead of going for a gross out approach, the zombie film dealt with other themes, the emphasis not really being about the zombie outbreak, but about a man who is conflicted and heartbroken regarding the fact that his teenage daughter has been bitten and is slowly changing into one of the undead. It’s not your typical zombie film, or film in general. It’s as if Terrence Malick or AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS director David Lowery had made a zombie movie, one that was 100% about the relationship between a father and his daughter and that father’s heartbreaking realization that he must put his own daughter down. It’s a heartbreaking film, with all of the action not being of the physical kind, but all in the eyes, the mannerisms and the heart-wrenching challenges a man has to take on and deal with. There’s a scene late into the film, when Arnold’s daughter has fully transformed, and she walks down the stairs and up to her father. She leans over to him and instead of biting him, she kisses his forehead. What makes the scene SO emotionally brutal, is that we see Arnold’s character’s hand move, showing us that not only is he not asleep, but that he refuses to open his eyes, because he knows what he’s going to have to do when he does..and when Maggie walks outside and Arnold opens his eyes, they’re filled with tears, and as he gets up, shotgun in hand, it’s impossible not to feel choked up.
What MAGGIE left me feeling wasn’t the typical gut-punch feeling that I had previously experienced with the previously mentioned films. It brought tears to my eyes while watching it, something that almost never happens to me, I’m just not that kind of person. It made me think about my life, my children, and how not only was those elements important to the film, but I realized that the films that deal with those decisions we hope and pray would never be decisions we would have on our shoulders, are important ones. They make us FEEL, HURT and think about life and things that we would typically never think about. While that’s painful for a parent to watch, it’s important to feel that way. Horrible things that had happened to me as a child led me to take being a parent more seriously than I had prior to having them. Films like THE MIST and MAGGIE made me realize that it’s important to experience these heart-wrenching stories, because they help us realize that we’re human and that these are valid, soul crushing questions that maybe we SHOULD be experiencing. There’s a moment in the 30 DAYS IN HELL: THE MAKING OF THE DEVIL’S REJECTS documentary, in which Bill Moseley is telling a story about having a hard time doing the infamous motel room rape scene, and he mentions that when he approached Zombie about the scene, Rob replied with, “Art is not safe”, and that rings true with this. If we wanted to only show ourselves safe films, then what business do we have engulfing ourselves in horror,if our comfort zones aren’t being challenged and we filter the kinds of films we watch. We need to feel the pain and hopeless once in a while, because it helps us know and appreciate the completely other side of the coin. Will I ever watch A SERBIAN FILM again? Hell no, still not my jam whatsoever. With that being said though, it’s important that we experience those moments and films that DO make us feel weak and defeated, the films that force us to examine ourselves and what we would do in those situations.
Jerry Smith is the Editor in Chief for Icons of Fright, as well as a freelance writer for both Fangoria and Delirium Magazines. A lifelong horror fanatic, Jerry is also knee deep in writing his first screenplay for hire, as well as getting ready to shoot the emotionally devastating short film, THE HEART OF EVIL THINGS. Feel free to contact Jerry at Jerry@iconsoffright.com at http://www.twitter.com/Jerryisjustok , where he always love to chat about films in general.