There are elements in Henry Hobson’s Maggie that could have brought some freshness, even to what surely must be the five-millionth zombie movie. But there aren’t enough of these elements to really make it breathe—in the end, it turns into a dying-teen movie with particularly grisly makeup.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that co-producer Arnold Schwarzenegger can act. Here, as in 1999’s End of Days, there are moments when he appears as the American cinema’s answer to Max von Sydow—a man on bleak and familiar terms with death. Unfortunately, to get Schwarzenegger, Hobson had to take him with dyed hair. The coiffure seems a bit fancy, given the epidemic-in-Kansas setting.
Schwarzenegger is Wade, an American prairie farmer of a near future during a plague of “necroambulism.” The familiar zombie symptoms creep up on a sufferer slowly—loss of appetite giving way to wheezing and an ultimate ravenousness. Wade has retrieved his daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), who ran away from the farm to the city to escape hurting her loved ones. Now she’s under close watch by her family and the local cops, who are, for a time, allowing her to stay out of the quarantine camps. Maggie is estranged from her friends; they don’t know how to handle her now that she’s infected.
Maggie has some dramatic potential, concerning a runaway daughter’s discomfort when she’s returned home. But Hobson’s angles on the material are relentlessly familiar. Schwarzenegger is a wise, perfect, concerned father, in a tight bond with Maggie’s stepmother (Joely Richardson). Hanging out at the reservoir at night, the stiff young adults talk to each other like the ’50s teens in a monster film—mild complaints all around. They’re not going to any extremes, even as the world is falling apart.
Maggie is dim, hand-held and semi-focussed on sunsets over these barren fields. The plants are blighted too, and farmers are burning their crops. Smoke is in the air. It’s as dark as a non-Russian movie gets, but it’s not deep: this consideration of a plague is more gloomy than affecting.—
PG-13; 95 Mins.