The zombie genre’s not quite dead yet

by Conner Schwerdtfeger

As society struggles to rebound from the devastation of necroambulist virus – which turns its hosts into zombie-like cannibals – Kansas farmer Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) brings his daughter home after weeks of searching for her. She has been bitten, with the doctors telling him to say his goodbyes and return her to quarantine in the coming weeks. There’s no saving Maggie, the virus will inevitably kill her, but Wade promises to protect his daughter no matter what.

If you heard the words “Schwarzenegger” and “zombie” in the same sentence, you would probably imagine a film replete with machine guns, one-liners, and an astronomical body count – don’t make that mistake. Maggie does an exceptional job of transcending the prototypical “zombie flick,” providing a somber, personal story about a family coming to terms with an impending loss. The film takes its time, utilizing beautiful cinematography and an equally beautiful score to accentuate its bleakness.

If 28 days later… turned the zombie/infection genre on its head by making the infection instantaneous, then Maggie does the same by running headlong in the other direction. Succumbing to the virus takes weeks, the victims tragically deteriorating as time goes on. Even when the infected snarl and attack the living, we get a palpable sense that a small part of the victim may remain – that they could snap out of it and buy more time.

Directed by
Henry Hobson
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson
Release Date
8 May 2015
Conner’s Grade: C+

Maggie could really just revolve around terminal illness and have the story play out identically; ethical dilemmas of euthanasia and the right to die with dignity play a central part of the narrative. While the film pays obvious homage to the works of men like George Romero, influences from films such as Dallas Buyers Club, andContagion seem just as prevalent.

What seems to have most people talking – and rightfully so – are Maggie’s two central performances, especially from Arnold Schwarzenegger. After building a career playing characters that frequently accomplish the impossible, Schwarzenegger portrays Wade as a man utterly powerless to prevent the inevitable. Stripping away the action clichés and machismo we typically know him for, he channels his power to show a man fighting to hang onto his world, giving us quiet, reflective moments of raw emotion.

Equally impressive is Abigail Breslin as the titular character; she shows considerable range as her character begins to decay – both inside and out. Cycling rapidly through emotions such as fear, anger, acceptance, and savagery, she keeps the audience off-kilter, as we can never really tell how much time Maggie has left.

Most of the other characters in the film do very little other than act as a chorus for Maggie and Wade. Their views on the situation give us a look at the broader scope of the world this virus has destroyed.

As good as the performances are, they cannot get around the fact that ultimately not much happens during Maggie. Schwarzenegger gives a heart-wrenching, pathos imbued performance, but Wade ultimately ends up a passive protagonist who does very little to drive the plot forward.

Much of the film’s plot revolves around Wade and Maggie watching the virus’ effect on other families, and the ominous implications it has for theirs. After a while it becomes hard to sympathize with Wade’s steadfast refusal to see reason; things go wrong all around him, but he still pats Maggie on the head and tells her it will be alright.

Director Harry Hobson deserves a bit of credit; he managed to take a fairly tired genre and do something new with it, even if he fumbled some things along the way. Despite these flaws, the emotional lead performances (particularly the revelatory one from Schwarzenegger) make Maggie worth watching.