Like a lumbering walker plodding into a herd of fellow undead, ‘Maggie’ is painfully inept at distinguishing itself from the zombie masses. Had the film arrived in 2001 — beating out ’28 Days Later’ by a year — it might have been hailed as refreshingly insightful.
Its approach of handling life in a bleak apocalyptic society with little hope for a cure beyond just making it to see another day would be revelatory. But trying to spin that in 2015 where that’s been a weekly occurrence on ‘The Walking Dead’ for five years it feels incredibly dated, dull and boring. Hardly an incentive for audiences to get off the couch to watch it.
The premise of a father caring for his daughter who’s slowly becoming a zombie has potential and it’s not a stretch to suggest that for a lot of moviegoers Arnold Schwarzenegger headlining makes it all the more intriguing.
Zombies + Schwarzenegger sounds like a blast — even if it’s just a dumb guilty pleasure. That’s a combination where a film being brainless is a plus.
Frustratingly viewers will likely spend more time coming up with all the crazy stunts and terrible puns Schwarzenegger could unleash in the zombie action genre instead of being drawn in to a far different Schwarzenegger leading role experience.
Schwarzenegger plays Wade, a dedicated father who brings his infected daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), to the home he shares with his new wife, Caroline (Joely Richardson). Maggie is understandably terrified of her future especially once she starts exhibiting advanced symptoms and while sympathetic, Caroline and some of Wade’s friends brace him for the reality that soon he’ll need to either place her in a quarantine zone or kill her.
In his feature film debut, director Henry Hobson (a title design director who worked on the first season of ‘The Walking Dead’) is all about setting a downing, depressing mood. You feel the weight of the characters thanks to long uncomfortable silences and a bleak, washed out grey and too heavy black color scheme. The theme is dark, but the color palette is even darker making it difficult to see what’s happening in some scenes. The brief moments of action seem added in almost accidentally and don’t fit in with the film’s otherwise talky and contemplative scenes.
Hobson attempts to work in some thrills as Maggie deals with her fears as she becomes more and more zombie-like, but the only suspense is if Maggie will try to take a bite out of Wade and Caroline before she bites it.
The gist of John C Scott’s script is that being bitten by a zombie and turning into one essentially ruins your life. If only there hadn’t been decades of zombie flicks and TV shows that more than adequately explained that’s not desirable Scott would be on to something. His minimalist storytelling approach doesn’t help either and needed to dig much deeper into the characters’ heads to make it resonate with audiences. What were Maggie’s hopes and dreams? Did she want to become president and get married, volunteer overseas or be a rock star? She’s too much of a generic zombie victim and Scott fails to offer any major revelation, surprise or insightful character development to reward your investment.
Schwarzenegger may get the top billing, but he has a largely basic supporting role. He’s not asked to do much save the occasional concerned face making this an odd fit for both the film and his career if this was intended as a springboard into more serious fare. Beslin capably carries the film, but needed a juicier part beyond a teen upset that they’re dying.
Zombie movies don’t always have to be downers. If it does anything right, it’s making death by zombie bite the most depressing, hopeless fate ever, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen done with more heart and emotion.