I don’t get the zombie craze but I do like that it’s given storytellers the chance to experiment with genre and try new things. Maggie is one of the most interesting films to come out of the zombie boom, a sad drama about a family dealing with the infection of a child in a world that’s given up hope.
When you see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s making a zombie movie, your natural first thought would be that he’s preparing to kick zombie ass. Indeed, some posters for the film show explosions and weaponry not featured in the film. Instead of Arnold cancelling the apocalypse, Maggie gives him one of his most dramatic, human characters ever. The setup is the usual zombie stuff, but it quickly becomes apparent that the execution is different this time. There’s a virus going around. It turns people into zombies but it goes beyond that, killing crops and infecting the earth. The world is barely clinging on – it’s apocalyptic, but it’s a few months/years before closing time – and everywhere you go farmers are burning their crops and the dead are locked behind closed doors.
Here’s the main thing that sets Maggie apart: the film cares about the infected. Some people wonder if zombie films are popular because it allows people to kill each other while dehumanizing the infected on the other end of the gun barrel. That could be it, or it could be something else. I just know that most zombie films feature the infected as little more than monsters fit for shooting, bashing, stabbing, and setting ablaze. In Maggie, the infected are our family and neighbors, and that feels like it matters.
The film opens with Arnold picking up his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) from the hospital. She’s been bitten. She probably shouldn’t even be turned over to her family, but the police are trusting the family to do the right thing when the time comes. Maggie will turn in approximately eight weeks. At that time, they must notify the police, who will take Maggie to the quarantine center. (There’s hopeful talk about a cure, but this is mostly fairy tale stuff. The quarantine center is where the infected go to die. And they die painfully.) Maggie’s family spends what time they have left with their daughter while counting the days and watching her get sicker and sicker. When the time comes, will the father be able to kill his daughter? Is there any hope for a happy ending?
Maggie is more of a drama than a horror film, but it simply could not work without the horror parts of its DNA. It’s a sad film, surprisingly heartfelt and real. The film is anchored by two great leads in Schwarzenegger and Breslin. Arnold’s rarely been this restrained, playing a defeated man who knows the worst is yet to come. As he approaches 70, Arnold may experiment more and more with his roles, and I’m excited to see what he has in store. Though Arnold’s the easy name to talk about, it’s actually Abigail Breslin that delivers the best performance here. Since earning an Oscar nod for Little Miss Sunshine, the actress has been one of the better young talents in film. You’re never quite sure how a talented child actor is gonna transition to a grown-up actor, but Breslin seems to be doing all right. Her work in Maggie – essentially playing a terminally ill youth whose sickness will make her inhuman – is one of the most interesting characters in the zombie subgenre.
Maggie falls a bit short of being a great, 5 star film – some moments lack the desired punch and one wonders if the PG-13 rating holds them back – but I really liked it. I think it’s a strong film and easily one of my favorites of the crowded zombie genre.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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