Zombies are everywhere. It’s hard to escape stories about zombies in the shows we watch like The Walking Dead, or the video games we play, such as Left 4 Dead. Whatever our fascination is with zombies, most media I’ve consumed about zombies almost always focuses on survival or how once regular, every day citizens channel their inner badasses and start shooting zombies in the head as if it’s a blood sport. While I appreciate experiencing these stories on occasion, they tend to offer nothing new about what it’d be like to live during a zombie apocalypse. When I watched the movie Maggie a few weeks ago, I’m struck by how different this movie felt compared to other zombie movies.
Maggie is the story of a father dealing with the inevitability of his daughter transitioning into a zombie after being bitten and how this grim situation affects each character personally. The movie itself is a quiet character driven drama with less focus on headshotting decaying corpses but more on the emotional aftermath of experiencing what it might be like to either face imminent death or being in the position of slowly losing someone you love and feeling powerless to do anything about it.
Most of the zombie stories I’m familiar with don’t often focus much on the emotional impact of either turning or coping with a hopeless situation on either side of the fence. The moments you do get of what each character is feeling is often very brief and tends to switch gears to focus on the thriller or action aspect of the zombie apocalypse. Plenty of jump scares and copious amounts of blood, but not enough scenes where it’s all about the characters’ emotional journey outside of the obvious horrors.
Watching Maggie and having Arnold Schwarzenegger play the role of a father who doesn’t come in guns blazing and cracking skulls, like you’d usually expect in a Schwarzenegger flick, is a welcome change for the actor. He does pack heat and you do see him kill a few zombies, but it’s not with the grandiose bells and whistles of Terminator, The Last Action Hero, or fill in any other Schwarzenegger movie that suits your fancy here. He’s just a regular father doing what he must to survive and protect his family. You also watch as Schwarzenegger’s Wade Vogel struggles with trying to be strong for his daughter, but at times see his own emotional armor crack when he knows he can’t save Maggie. The best he can do is try to make whatever amount of time he has left with her count and to keep showing her how much she is loved.
Schwarzenegger’s acting is surprisingly good for someone who isn’t known for doing many dramatic roles during his long and iconic career as an action superstar. Admittedly, Schwarzenegger doesn’t have a ton of speaking parts but the emotion he expresses in the absence of dialogue are very genuine and convincing for the audience to tap into the pain and grief he’s feeling over his daughter’s situation and how he plans on handling it when his little girl is no longer his little girl anymore. It’s a movie where you actually get to see a different side of Schwarzenegger most aren’t used to seeing and it works well for him.
Abigail Breslin as Schwarzenegger’s daughter Maggie gives a strong performance that is both raw as it is heartbreaking. I personally think her best moments in the film is when you see her alone in her room or out in the fields trying to cope and accept her grim situation. Maggie is terrified but she makes the most out of living whatever remaining days she has as normally as possible, thanks to her dad and stepmom creating that environment for her. Maggie puts on a brave face for the sake of her family and friends, but it’s when she’s not surrounded by anyone does she let the mask fall away to reveal the desperation and fear she truly feels. I’ve always enjoyed Breslin’s work and she succeeds at portraying a character who is straddling a thin line between clinging to her humanity and giving into the soulless cannibalistic nature of a zombie. There’s a gentleness and grace about Maggie whose life is unraveling, and I’m not sure if any other young actress would have succeeded in portraying that beautifully like Breslin does.
The plot itself might seem too simple and the pacing of the movie might feel like it’s dragging in spots, but the real reason to watch Maggie is for the performances by both Breslin and Schwarzenegger, and the intimate moments and poignant emotions in all its transparency between the characters. The characters will connect with you on the highest of emotional levels and they continue to resonate after the movie is over.
Reviewer Rating: 8.5/10