As the world is plagued by a Necroambulist virus that turns humans into zombies, it finds its way to a small American town. A young girl, Maggie (Breslin) is attacked and infected by the virus after daring to go out after curfew and in time brought to the hospital for treatment. Her father, Wade (Schwarzenegger), tracks her down and takes her home to care for her with step-mother Caroline (Richardson).
As Maggie develops painful and disfiguring side-effects as the virus slowly takes hold of her, Wade does all he can to protect and support his daughter who struggles to comes to terms with her fate – the virus will eventually kill her as a process called “The Turn”.
With the authorities breathing down Wade’s neck to ensure he does the right thing when the time comes, Maggie tries to live a normal remainder of her life with the love of a father who stands against anyone, or anything, who will try to take away her right to survive as best she can…
As of 2013 when Schwarzenegger returned to our screens to take the lead in film once more, his offering was rather tepid in terms of critical and audience reception. With 4 films as lead under his belt in under 2 years, and an uncertain future as the Terminator in a gambled re-boot of the franchise looms, it’s safe to say that his turn in ‘Maggie’ is, as an actor, his best role yet in many a year.
With a genre, trailer and poster that understandably tease you scares, zombies, blood-lust and action, this is the second supernatural film Arnie has tackled; the first being the apocalyptic ‘End Of Days’ in 1999. However, this film turns the zombie genre on its undead head and uses it as a backdrop for what otherwise is a heartfelt drama about a father and daughter’s bond through a life-changing event. And it’s refreshing because of it.
We don’t see Arnie taking down zombies with chainsaws, shotguns or pick-up trucks trying to save his daughter and the whole world. Instead, we see Arnie defend himself with only an axe and single barrel shotgun in a total on-screen kill count of 2. The tone of this film is bleak – from the near sepia colouring to the desolate American town filled with burning crop fields, low grey clouds, and abandoned roads. It’s not signalling the end of the world, but more like a community coming to terms with a virus they can try to contain, but also trying to deal with the emotional heartache it brings to those affected. It gives zombies and their families a chance to be seen as human before the virus takes over.
There is very little zombie action, which again is refreshing. Bar a couple of wandering undead that reminds us of the lingering threat, this slow-paced story is all about young Maggie who played brilliantly by Abigail Breslin who has become the latest victim of the virus and must come to terms with the knowledge she will eventually die and probably hurt those she loves in the process. She’s a young teenage girl who just wants to succeed in life and hang out with friends but finds it impossible when her own family are scared of her and her confidence is shattered slowly by the disfiguring transformation. Breslin plays it perfectly, conveying both determination and helplessness in her situation and her slow transition from teenager to zombie is chilling.
But this film also belongs to Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade, a husband and father who is trying to protect his family but primarily protect his daughter from herself and the threats of the outside world trying to lock her away. Schwarzenegger isn’t the greatest actor, and his back catalogue doesn’t require him to be as he was the pinnacle of action films and wooden acting that worked perfectly for his time. But now times have changed and he isn’t the acclaimed action star he once was, and so this film gives him the perfect opportunity to actually act for all his worth. No one-liners, no in-jokes, no action hero – here is just a father doing what a father would do to try and protect his child. He gives a sombre and emotional performance alongside Breslin and the two share some truly heart-breaking moments together with great chemistry from the off. There’s no clichéd rift to heal or anything like that, it’s simply a father and daughter from the start taking a journey that they know will end badly, but it’s how they come to terms with it and what they both are willing to do in order to protect each other and the family.
I found this a brave story to tell going against everything one could expect from the genre and the lead star. It is a very slow-paced film even for 90mins, and requires you to leave all expectations at the door and immerse yourself in a drama; nothing more. It’s bleak, it’s moving and not your usual Hollywood style happy ending, but it provides enough moments to make it all worthwhile if you invest in the two leads and see how their journey pans out.
Wonderfully acted, brilliantly shot and very chilling and tense in moments. This doesn’t offer anything new, but it’s down to the leads and the actual story that solidifies this as a very good film to watch, and a real gem from Arnie to show he can actually act given the right script and story away from CGI nonsense and the Hollywood blockbuster machine.
Directed by: Henry Hobson
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson