Maggie is looking for a novel way to approach the influx of zombie stories in popular culture; it has it, but can’t deliver on the premise.
A bearded Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a loving, hopeless father named Wade with great sympathy; Abigail Breslin is his infected daughter. Together they inhabit a bleak countryside home, counting the days until she turns and essentially dies.
The family drama is in fact melodrama, as we watch pensive parental stares and slow motion shots of a precocious young girl about to lose her innocence. This zombie world is less about fear and more about containment and revitalization. It seems there is less a swarm of walkers and more a spattering – we encounter more people than the dead for the entirely of the story.
Maggie, however, lacks nuance, and continues to hammer home the point that the titular young girl is sick. “Think about what you might have to do,” says a police officer to Wade. Well, obviously. “Let’s enjoy the time we have with her,” says mom. We get it. It rides wholly on the inherent charisma of Schwarzenegger and the innocence of Breslin. Maggie also rides on the assumption that the audience has so many established experiences and emotional attachments about zombie stories that this film doesn’t need to do any work.
Tension rises infrequently, with director Henry Hobson staying intimate in every interaction – Wade will run into one zombie in the forest and encounter a desperate woman in another. That their Midwestern home is set against a gray sky on a grassy expanse aids in the eerie quality, but a poor script makes everything feel forced.
Things pick up in the second half, where Maggie shifts focus from the loving father to the inflicted title heroine, dealing with the relationships she has with those her age while battling demons inside. Breslin is superb, but like the actor who plays her father, isn’t given enough to say and do.
The finale is too predictable, but fitting with a film that isn’t as emotionally-powerful as it wants to be.