A midwestern farmer (Schwarzenegger) tries to care for his daughter (Breslin), who is turning into a zombie.
In 1968, George A. Romero changed the face of the horror film with Night Of The Living Dead. What didn’t become apparent for decades was that Night also created a new genre backdrop, the zombie apocalypse. Just as the Western or the musical could once tell a range of stories from comedy to tragedy, so zombie apocalypse horror film runs to TV soap opera, teen romance, nerd comedy, action epic, reality show or — as here — indie arthouse drama.
Maggie, a buzz-catching script by John Scott 3 which has wound up as the feature debut of titles designer Henry Hobson, mixes slow-burning father-daughter terminal illness drama with Romero-ish horror. Though Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-Governator action comeback has petered out, he shows perhaps-surprising chops as a mature actor in a sincere, unshowy, effective turn. Rather than kick zombie ass and blow away mutants with big guns, Arnie’s farmer hero has to burn his crops, shut out his wife (Joely Richardson) and younger kids, and clash with medical and police authorities who are enforcing a perhaps-inhumane quarantine policy (it might boil down to throwing ’em all in a room and letting ’em eat each other) while watching his daughter Marguerite (Abigail Breslin) slowly, upsettingly change in a manner all too familiar from other zombie films.
It’s slow-paced and thoughtful, which prods you to ponder the fairly obvious subtexts — sexually-transmitted disease, teenage hormones (Maggie spends as much time peering at her decaying skin in the mirror as any acne-scarred princess) and the decline of the rural working class. It’s slightly unusual that the transformation takes quite a long time, though even that’s not unprecedented (Deathdream, Life After Beth), but this is tactful and earnest about its characters’ situation — though it works its way towards an inevitable, downbeat finish so methodically that the finale is more likely to shock than surprise.
It feels a little like a very special episode of The Walking Dead and might be a tad low-key for its field, but Schwarzenegger and Breslin are good and the payoff is affecting.