Once upon a time action fans everywhere would have jumped at the chance to see someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger star in a zombie movie. Imagine it, Arnold ripping through the undead spouting one liners such as "Be Ghoul!" or "I eat zombies for breakfast and right now I am very hungry!" as he single-handedly saves the entire world from the apocalypse. Well, action fans should keep on dreaming as the zombie movie Arnold has decided to star in is as about far removed from what many would expect as it possibly can be. His new film Maggie may not have the body count but it makes up for it with one of the more surprisingly sentimental zombie films to come around in quite some time. Read the full review after the break.
The scenario is mostly the same as your typical zombie flick, the world has been plagued with an infection that causes the living to turn into the walking dead. The details however are where Maggie separates itself from the more common conceits of the genre where instead of focusing on the actual event itself or a band of survivors we follow one girl, Maggie (Abigail Breslin) who has been infected and is counting down the days until she turns into a flesh eater. Watching over Maggie are her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and her stepmother (Joely Richardson) who must make a difficult decision, either wait for her to turn and take care of it themselves or take her to the local quarantine where she will likely meet a more unfriendly end. With the local police and neighbors quickly become more weary and freightened of Maggie with each passing day it is only a matter of time until something nobody wants to do must happen.
Fans of the zombie genre can be a fickle bunch, as they tend to like their favorite flavor of zombie horror in very specific ways. They run or they walk, they talk or they don't, they die from a shot to the head or when they get shot anywhere, either way it is impossible to please everyone out there as with each new entry into the zombie genre the rules become less of a factor. What is a factor is that the story stay true to the overall theme of zombie horror, which is more or less about how it acts as a metaphor towards the failings and strengths of humanity as a whole. Some help others while a select few look out for themselves, but the one constant is always how we react to the loss of a loved one and the lengths we will go to protect them which is often to our own detriment.
Maggie veers off the beaten path more than most other examples of the genre by treating the infection as if it were more a terminal disease than something out of a horror film. Sure there are a couple zombies that pop up here and there, but director Henry Hobson isn't interested in showing us things we have seen time and again, instead he keeps us focused on Maggie and the turmoil she is going through as she slowly decays in both physical and mental capacities. It is more akin to watching a terminal cancer patient say goodbye to all their loved ones and coming to grips with their fate than it is someone mercifully putting a bullet through their head before they eat somebody. Where the film truly excels is in how it balances its depiction of Maggie's fate between zombie horror and melodrama.
Scenes such as when Maggie comes across a caged fox in the woods where her instinct to set it free is overcome by a more feral need to feed or how she ceases being able to smell traditional food and instead begins to smell her parents as if they were her next meal are the strongest aspects of the film and help it from becoming too much like a lifetime movie of the week and keeps it firmly rooted in its respective genre. But then we have scenes that also pull on our heartstrings a bit such as a final farewell get together with Maggie and all her friends or the moment when she visits her mother's grave with her father. It is a fine line the film rides between sentimentality and horror but it straddles it as well as any film dealing with someone facing a real terminal disease.
As for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the poster child and real selling point of the film, he does an admirable job in the role of the grief stricken father but by no means does he ever transcend into a full gut wrenching performance like this film truly needed. It seems odd to think the film's number one attraction for general audiences is also its biggest misstep but when a film is asking its audience to get as emotionally invested into its characters as this does then we need an actor who is able to tap into that darker corner of themselves and Arnold just isn't able to get there. This is more a case of miscasting than it is about how good or bad Arnold is in the role, but it still negatively effects the film in a way that almost cripples it. Regardless of that fact, zombie fans should still give it a shot as its many unique positives are worth the effort.
As a zombie flick Maggie may disappoint the larger audience for the genre as it is missing all the action and gore that most crave from it. But those willing to lay down their guns and machetes long enough to give the film a chance to win them over will find a unique and rewarding experience that is as good as it different. Aside from the choice to go with a big name action star in the lead role, there really isn't anything to complain about with Maggie. Every and all self proclaimed zombie fans should check it out if you are looking for a different angle on the genre.