I’ll be Dad…
It’s not easy being Arnold Schwarzenegger. Keep doing the action stuff you’ll get told you’re too old for it; try something a bit more grown-up and everyone will spend the whole film waiting for a one-liner. Such is the problem facing Maggie, a brave but painfully slow-moving zombie drama that gets squashed under the same Austrian Oak trying so hard to prop it up.
Early on, Arnie’s Wade Vogel picks up his eponymous daughter (Abigail Breslin) from the hospital and she starts scratching the teeth marks on her arm. “Stop picking at it!” he yells, like Kindergarden Cop having a bad dream. It’s hard to take him seriously – and this is a serious film, all right.
Bitten by a zombie in the first throes of a slow-burning apocalypse, teenager Maggie has about a month left before she “turns”. She’s been quarantined in her rural farmhouse so the whole family can come to terms with her horrible, sad situation.
And that’s about it, plot- wise. Arnie might punch a couple of zombies in the face and get mildly angry at a few local cops, but this isn’t End Of Days. Instead, it’s a thinly veiled metaphor for dealing with terminal illness; the real horror here comes from watching a man slowly losing his daughter.
In what is by far the weightiest and most restrained role Schwarzenegger has ever attempted, he does an incredible job given what he has to work with. Unfortunately, what he has to work with is a body like a stack of breeze blocks and a voice like, well, Arnie – making it difficult to see him as a normal person.
When it works, it’s devastating (a single tear rolling down his granite face carries the emotional heft of an entire career), but when it doesn’t, it pulls you out of the film like nothing else.
Breslin turns in some of her best, most sensitive work to date – but it’s hard to see her when she’s constantly standing in Schwarzenegger’s shadow. Harder still when she’s standing in an actual shadow, as debut director Henry Hobson shoots everything in almost complete darkness. Dingy bedrooms, overcast skies and gloomy barns… Maggie certainly looks like a horror film even it doesn’t act like one.
Odd casting and lighting choices aside, there’s a genuinely affecting drama at the unhappy heart of Hobson’s film. And it’s refreshing to see an original, low-key take on such a ubiquitous genre – even if it doesn’t prove quite as groundbreaking for Arnie as he might have hoped.