Who would have thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger would star in a small family drama about zombies in a post-apocalyptic world? And that his performance is his best in years.
Abigail Breslin is Maggie, a teenager who’s just become infected with a virus that’ll turn her into a zombie. Infected people only get about 2 weeks of freedom before they are forced into quarantine – before the “turn,” they say. The world is going to hell with inspections to find anyone who is going through the ‘turn’, there is martial law, you can’t trust your neighbors and lurking behind the corner or tree might be a zombie. Wade (Schwarzenegger), her father, knows time is short and that at any time, the police could come and grab Maggie but that doesn’t stop him from trying to do everything he can to protect her.
There’s not much to the story other than that. It’s more like a teen drama set in a world with zombies.
Breslin is the true lead of the film and she’s terrific. She’s only got a few weeks to live but yet, she’s still a teenager, so she’s got all those emotions running through her. There’s one scene where she’s at a party with some friends. Another friend is turning as well, while the others aren’t. It’s their last party ever yet no one is sad… it’s like a goodbye, like they’re moving away. They’ve lived in this world long enough that they now know the drill. It’s the best scene in the film how Breslin underplays that angst and sadness.
Schwarzenegger looks weary and beaten. You can see the toll this epidemic has taken on him. There’s no bravado here like in every other role he’s ever played and it works out quite well because he’s really good here. Early on, he decides he might have to be the one to kill her. Going into quarantine is more like a factory for murder, there’s nothing humane about it and you feel for him and this decision he might have to make. For some reason, I got a flash of Old Yeller.
Director Henry Hobson does a nice job with the family moments here and you can feel the love. Those moments where they know it could be their last, where they are making the best of it by laughing at the most mundane things.
There are some problems though. Schwarzenegger disappears for a while and suddenly shows back up with no explanation. Joely Richardson’s Caroline, the third lead in the film and the rock of the house, also leaves, albeit with a tiny bit of reasoning. It seemed like a bit of a cheat with the explanation.
And the film isn’t much to look at. Everything is muted and there’s not one thing appealing to look at. It’s post-apocalyptic, yeah, but that doesn’t mean the canvass shouldn’t be somewhat appealing to watch.
That aside, watching Schwarzenegger stretch his acting muscles for once might be, at least for fans, worth the watch.
‘Maggie’ is in theaters and on iTunes today