Synopsis – 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.
My Take – I’ve never been a fan of the zombie genre as something about the undead just hunting & eating on human flesh never seemed appealing. Yet, it has not stopped me from enjoying well written shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ and films like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ & ‘Zombieland’ & ‘World War Z’. While this film cashes on the fact that it has Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead, as an Arnie fan I had to watch it! Just in case you are expecting the old Arnold, with the guns blazing, man of action with corny lines type role that he usually does, you might be a disappointed! As he ends up giving one of the most subdued, reserved and accessible performances of his career as broken man trying to save his daughter. The story follows quiet family man Wade (Schwarzenegger) set against the backdrop of a small Midwestern town in the aftermath of a deadly pandemic that produces zombie-like symptoms, Wade drives into the city to pick up his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin), who has just been diagnosed with the virus. As she is still in the early stages of infection, Maggie is allowed to return home with Wade, with the admonishment that she be taken to the quarantine zone once her symptoms become worse. Maggie’s stepmother (Joely Richardson) sends her own children to stay with relatives as a precautionary measure, and the ramshackle farmhouse becomes a cradle of tension and sorrow as the family bides their time waiting for the inevitable.
Frankly, If you strip out the zombie-related elements, this could just as easily have been any number of films about a teenager with a terminal illness – the only real difference here is that Maggie’s affliction leaves her prone to grey skin, wounds that won’t heal and a desire to consume raw flesh. Downplaying the horror in favor of focusing on the familial drama is a superb choice, and lends the film a distinct voice in this already done to death crowded genre. Director Henry Hobson has done an awesome job in crafting characters against stereotype — we have doctors who are neither omnipotent saints nor detached jerks. The popular kids at school sweetly welcome their infected friends along on a night out, instead of avoiding them. An overzealous Jerk Cop character wants to round up all the infected without prejudice and quarantine them right away. But, by the end of the movie, moral ambiguity suggests that he’s probably right. Sure their are some flaws here & there. For example, the government institutes quarantines for infected people, yet politely allows people to return home for a few weeks until they are definitely dangerous? And they then return voluntarily to quarantine after a phone call, even after it becomes well known that the quarantines are hellish places to die? I’m pretty sure no quarantine in history has ever worked like that. Consider the recent Ebola outbreak, and how the quite healthy and asymptomatic Doctors Without Borders’ volunteers were sequestered immediately. Maggie’s release to her home was quite obviously an overly convenient plot device. I honestly think a lot of horror fans will be disappointed with this. Was it really necessary to include almost no action? I personally feel that “28 Days Later” (2002) was a moving, touching, richly thematic film. (It’s a favorite.) Yet it still served up some racing, screaming hordes of “infected” that were goddam terrifying. If this film had just one action set piece, it would have broader appeal. And it would break up the movie’s slow pace. A movie like this doesn’t have to be about exploding zombie heads, but it wouldn’t hurt to include just one, just for fun. But I guess Hobson didn’t want to deviate from the moving father-daughter relationship, in this interesting and unique approach to a subject that is often glossed over in other zombie-related stories, and the quieter moments are the ones that resonate the most. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen following his eight-year stint as the Governor of California was met with a triumphant cheer from fans of the ridiculous, over-the-top action movies that the Austrian actor helped popularize. Starring in good & bad films like The Last Stand, The Expendables series, Escape Plan and Sabotage, it seemed like Arnold hadn’t missed a step during his big- screen hiatus. But amid all the gunfire and explosions and catchphrases, Schwarzenegger also managed to find time for some genuine acting.
This film is easily the most emotional and melodramatic work of Schwarzenegger’s career, a somber and melancholy affair that showcases a range we’ve never seen from the aging action superstar. His on screen relationship with Breslin feels authentic and believable, and it’s hard not to sympathize with a loving father who knows his child is slipping away. Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin truly is a talent. You see the deterioration of not just the person’s body, but their hopes and dreams. Breslin displays the broken heart of a girl who sees her former boyfriend get taken away despite pleading with his father to stay just one more day. You see the realization of her new self in the behaviors she acquires along the way. And most importantly, and probably the most heartbreaking, is in the final interactions with her friends and in the truth of a future that will never come. Breslin shines like no other. It’s happy to see her stretching her acting capabilities at this point in her career. In his directorial debut, Henry Hobson knows just when to pull at the audience’s heartstrings. There’s very little in the way of conventional horror, which might disappoint some genre fans hoping for a few scares, but this shouldn’t be seen as a shortcoming. He really shed new light to the zombie genre because it showed intimately how a family member was deeply affected by an outbreak. It’s expertly made, and is like no other zombie movie I’ve ever seen before. On the whole, ‘Maggie’ is is a moving human drama approach to the zombie genre. A very dark family drama, cleverly housed inside a horror sub-genre. With the moods of slow paced hard-hitting films but with the charisma of any entertaining blockbuster, this film is definitely worth a watch!
Director – Henry Hobson
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 95 minutes