Although he’s careful not to show it, Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is at his wits’ end. The zombie outbreak has seriously affected life in the United States, and though he is a farmer way out in the countryside where it should not be as dire as it is in more populated regions, everyone is feeling the effects, and the mood of the nation is miserable. Making things worse for him is the fact his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has gone missing, but after spending a couple of weeks searching he has finally tracked her down to this city hospital where she is being treated for a bite. The trouble is, bites are infectious and more often than not mean the victim will expire soon – the doctors make it clear to him Maggie doesn’t have long to live.
The zombie genre showed no signs of abating when Maggie was released, though it was getting increasingly difficult to say much that had not been done before in the subgenre of horror, and most of that had been achieved by George A. Romero who had kicked it all off with his original zombie trilogy some decades before. This was supposed to be something different, which is why its director Henry Hobson, a titles designer whose qualifications included designing the credits for the world’s biggest television show at the time, The Walking Dead, accepted it as his directorial debut. He saw the much lauded script by John Scott 3 as a drama more than a shocker, and that certainly came across in the end result.
Many picked up on the fact this was more a disease of the week television movie disguised as an undead yarn than it was something like the direct descendants of Night of the Living Dead, but if that had been the case it would not have found much of an audience. You could argue it didn’t anyway, yet it picked up a small but hardy band of admirers who appreciated what Hobson was accomplishing with his work, most blatantly in its reimagining of the traditional Schwarzenegger role. The action star was most recognisable for getting things sorted out in the most firearm and fists based methods possible on the big screen, however here that wasn’t going to help him, making for a surprisingly potent sight of the most capable man of the eighties becoming the most helpless man of the twenty-tens.
He wasn’t helpless because he was physically weak, he was helpless because he could do nothing to prevent the daughter he doted on from slipping into a zombie state, basically this was Ahnold versus the Grim Reaper, and not even he could stop that in its tracks. Over and over we watched Wade try and cope with a situation that was nothing but hopeless, to the point that he could only stave off the inevitable and endeavour to make Maggie’s last days of consciousness comfortable, though even so he couldn’t prevent her beginning to rot, break and then cut off a finger, or start to find the living around her were smelling like food to her decaying nostrils (a clever touch not many other zombie flicks bothered to mention). While Schwarzenegger was effective thanks to casting against type, Breslin achieved something with her talent for acting.
Her co-star wasn’t best known for his thespian skills, though in the right role he could shine, it was a matter of finding that part; he didn’t particularly have a range either, so it was more seeing the superman of so many action yarns brought so low that resonated, and Breslin was a major part of that as you realised it wasn’t Wade who was the main character, but as the title suggested it was Maggie who was the focus. Not simply the focus of a family facing up to tragedy, but an entire society losing its way, and that was key: we were watching the hope of the world, the younger generation, wasting away and losing all of their potential. We had regular snippets of information about how awful life had become for everyone, but it was Maggie who encapsulated that as this was a film where everyone might as well have their own little cloud of gloom floating above their heads like in a cartoon. Not a barrel of laughs as it came down to the issue of how to kill the girl before she started chomping her nearest and dearest, not even an exciting horror really, yet oddly provocative in how dejected and contemplative it could be. Music by David Wingo.