Who says that even one of the biggest Hollywood action legends can’t have a go at some serious acting? That’s exactly what Arnold Schwarzenegger does in Maggie, a post-apocalyptic tale of a father doing everything he can to protect his daughter. The twist is she’s slowly turning into a zombie.
The plot centres on the titular Midwestern teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has become infected by a mysterious virus that turns its victims into cannibalistic zombies. After weeks of searching, her father (Schwarzenegger) finds her in a quarantined area of a hospital. Since she’s not yet at the mandatory level for permanent quarantine, she is allowed to go home with her father so that they can spend her last human days together and to say their proper goodbyes.
First time feature director Henry Hobson obviously has ideas and a certain vision that has to be respected. The trouble is nothing fits together to work as one complete, satisfying, compelling piece of filmmaking. It fails to work on a fundamental level as both a zombie flick – lacking all but a few fleeting moments of real undead threat – and as a protective father-daughter story. There’s just not enough poured into either aspect, leaving it feeling strangely empty.
It also far outstays its welcome so that even its relatively brisk 95 minute runtime feels like a lot longer; perhaps it would have fared better as a 20 minute short where pace would surely become more of a priority. The post-apocalyptic world is convincing enough, calling to mind the likes of Stake Land and 28 Days Later, though without the bite or philosophical and emotional weight of either.
There’s something to be admired in Schwarzenegger trying to subvert his usual over-the-top action hero persona but as hard as he tries, there’s just not much to his rather flat and unengaging character. Abigail Breslin is distant and hard to grasp onto emotionally but it makes more sense for her considering her increasingly undead state. They’re also never truly believable as a real father and daughter, an issue when you’re supposed to be willing them to not be torn apart by the ruthless virus and the authorities trying to keep the threat under control.
Perhaps the word “zombie” immediately mis-sells the film as something that it’s not. Nevertheless, as it stands, it’s a curiously sluggish and uneventful film, full of sub-Terence Malick lingering shots of the sunset and nature or of characters longingly staring off into the distance for what feels like aeons. It’s nicely shot with effectively and fittingly bleak cinematography and there’s an excellent ethereal score permeating the whole thing. But those are window dressing for what is ultimately a rather dull and repetitive film, one that moves at about the same pace as one of George A. Romero’s shuffling undead.