Directed by Henry Hobson
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin and Joely Richardson.
A teenage girl in the Midwest becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father stays by her side.
The world is in the midst of an apocalypse the media has dubbed “The Turn,” in which much of humanity has succumbed to a “necro-ambulant” condition … a scientific way of saying that people everywhere are turning into flesh-rotting zombies. Martial law is declared, countries are on lockdown, and if you’re bitten by one of the walking dead you’re closely watched by family members over the course of about two weeks, after which time you are either terminated by a loved one or interred into a mass holding pen, a filthy quarantine zone where zombies are free to munch on each other until they completely phase out. It’s been a little while since the initial outbreak, so the sight of slowly turning neighbors or family members (or even strangers at the hospital) doesn’t elicit the shock and awe it might have at the outset but, rather, seeing ordinary people in their transition from human to zombie conjures deep emotional sadness and distrust, because science hasn’t been able to pinpoint exactly how long it takes for people to turn yet.
Humble, hardworking farmer Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been searching for his missing 16-year old daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) for two weeks throughout a devastated urban apocalyptic landscape (this was filmed in Louisiana), and finds her in a depressed, half-empty hospital for the infecteds, and she’s only just been bitten, so there’s still time to make whatever amends they need to before she’s completely turned. Back at their dilapidated homestead, Wade and his wife Caroline (Joely Richardson) do their best to make Maggie comfortable as her symptoms worsen, losing her appetite altogether before gaining it all over again with a vengeance, and losing an index finger in a simple accident, and all while her flesh begins rotting and her lungs completely give out. As if watching his daughter deteriorate wasn’t bad enough, Wade seeks every option available on what to do when the hour arrives when she becomes dangerous, and knowing there will be no easy way out of it, Maggie gives him the strength to do her the final favor.
Simplistic, unpretentious, and emotionally draining, Maggie is an up-close and personal voyage of humanity through a zombie apocalypse. It’s depressing, and yet it prides itself on its deliberate effort to humanize the monsters Hollywood and pop culture have exploited through mass-appeal blockbusters, video games, and comic books. This movie strips away the myth of the zombie, puts souls in them, and we watch as characters slowly go through a sad bereavement period as they stand by, waiting for their loved ones to take their final breath. What makes the movie really stand out is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of it. He’s played fathers before, but never so touchingly, or with as much depth. If you’ve paid attention to his career, you will have seen him play some deeply emotional characters twice before – once as a suicidal detective in End of Days (1999), and more recently as a jaded task enforcer out for the revenge of the murder of his family in Sabotage (2014) – and Maggie gives him even more to work with and allows him to plunge into dark emotional territory that he bravely treads and emerges topside with all the pathos, wisdom, and strength he’s accrued as an actor and a father over the past several decades. He’s the best aspect of the film, and if it wasn’t for him (because the role could have been played by dozens of working name actors, honestly), the movie would merely be a curiosity in the pantheon of zombie apocalypse films. It’s different for that type of picture, but it’s not a game changer, but for Arnold it’s serious business and a stern reminder that he deserves to be treated with utmost respect as an actor, and not just as an action star. He’s still got it, and any of his fans who ignored his last several films (shame on you if you did!) should make the effort to support this one while it plays in theaters.
The script by John Scott III makes every attempt to demystify the horror genre by presenting us with characters we care about, particularly that of Maggie herself, and as played by Breslin, who is shown in various stages of decay, never appears or acts as anything less or more than an average teenager. With the dread of knowing her fate, her character tries to accept what is coming, and even when in the end we expect her to rage in hunger, her actions are surprisingly human. The direction by first-timer Henry Hobson is understated (perhaps frustratingly so) and grounded in a terrible, devastated future, but it’s the apocalypse of the heart that he’s most concerned with.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
david j. moore is a contributing writer to Fangoria, FilmFax, Lunchmeat and VideoScope Magazines. His book WORLD GONE WILD: A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES was published this year.