I hate zombie movies.
There. I said it.
Honestly I’ve simply never been excited about The Walking Dead, yawn at the prospect of another Romero project (although I acknowledge that he knows the craft well) and I’m not a fan of the gore generally associated with the genre. There are exceptions, of course. (There always are.) Still, those exceptions are usually ones which zombie enthusiasts reject as not ‘true zombie films’ like World War Z and I Am Legend.
And then, there’s Maggie.
Originally intended to have its world premiere at TIFF last September, Maggie was mysteriously pulled from the schedule and held back until the spring. At the time, the rumour was that the distributor was concerned that the notoriously picky festival crowd would tear it to shreds before it hit the public.
That was a mistake.
In a familiar setting, Maggie takes place in a world ravaged by a mysterious virus that is gradually turning humans into zombies. Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a small-town farmer whose daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) runs away to the city. He searches for two solid weeks to find her, only to discover that she has contracted the virus herself and begins to decompose. Refusing to deliver his daughter to the ‘Quarantine’ until absolutely necessary, Wade brings Maggie back to his home where he can care for her properly over her remaining days.
What sets Maggie apart from other entries into the zombie genre is its tone. In a shocking performance, Schwarzenegger plays his role muted and emotionally, rarely raising his voice above a whisper. (He cries… twice!) Still, without question, the real star of the film is Breslin.
Living in a state of both living and dying, she agonizes over her inevitable death, yearning for a normal life with her friends and family. What’s more, instead of playing out as a thriller or gore-fest, Maggie plays out as a teen-centric cancer drama. (Think The Fault in Our Stars… with zombie-isms!) Rather than focus on the potential gore, Maggie emphasizes the beauty and value of every individual as God’s created beings. Breslin’s performance reveals her as more than ‘just an infected being’.
In addition, as Wade, Schwarzenegger drives this sense of human value home further. Essentially stepping into the role of the Prodigal’s father, he celebrates his daughter’s homecoming in a way that does not judge her rebellion. By welcoming her back into their home, despite the warnings of other citizens, Wade demonstrates that she matters to him primarily because she is his daughter. While she must live with the consequences of her actions, he never allows her to forget that she has value. With a love that mirrors the redemptive nature of our Heavenly Father, Schwarzenegger refuses to let his daughter forget who he sees her as, despite her condition.
In many ways, he gives Maggie her life back.
Is Maggie amazing? No, but it’s a fascinating look at humanity… and the most unique role that Schwarzenegger has ever had.
Even if it isn’t a true zombie film.