Abigail Breslin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Joely Richardson star in this film about a father’s love, set during a controlled zombie outbreak. Breslin is Marguerite (Maggie), the eldest daughter of Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger). Wade is a remarried widow with three children – one, Maggie, by his late wife, and two from his current marriage to wife Caroline (Richardson).
The film opens after Maggie has already been infected. We see the origins of the bite only in Maggie’s nightmares. The virus has been named – the Necroambulist virus – and its spread has been contained. Military-enforced curfews have slowed the spread of infection. Loved ones and police ensure that infected relatives are sent to quarantine at local hospitals. There they are given pamphlets about the virus and medical details on how their relatives will progress.
In the wake of what is usually a post-apocalyptic event, life is proceeding as normally as possible in the Vogels’ small town. School will be reopening in the fall. Infected relatives are often kept home until they reach a turning point in their infection. The film mostly takes place in the Vogel home, where Wade and Caroline tend to Maggie as the virus progresses. There are a few other characters – Maggie’s infected boyfriend, a caring but realistic doctor, and police officers who understand Wade’s position but want to protect the rest of the town. However, Breslin and Schwarzenegger shoulder most of the work in Maggie, with convincing and relatable performances.
The setting of the film could be a plains town just a generation after the Dust Bowl were it not for items from subsequent decades that can be spotted throughout the film. Missing persons posters cover the frontage of the town’s only store and gas station, but the shabby locale seems to have been abandoned by commerce long before the virus took so many of its residents. The gray skies seem annual, only now they are exacerbated by crop fires intended to stop the spread of the virus. The plague hasn’t changed the fact that not much is going on in this bleakly beautiful town. The virus has only been assimilated into the town’s stubborn insistence to live on.
This is not a film about jump scares and exploding heads. There are few zombies dispatched, as most have been quarantined. There are no sprawling images of destroyed cityscapes. The film is rather about families struggling to let go of those infected, and the tension stems from their rather understandable desire to hold on even when their own well-being is endangered.
Maggie is a character study of a father and daughter who have lost their wife and mother, respectively, struggling towards the impending death of the daughter as well. Schwarzenegger performs admirably as the rural father with a shotgun, though his performance is no doubt assisted by the relatively minimal amount of dialogue in the film. He carries on his face the three choices Wade faces: quarantine, a painful treatment that will not preserve life, or a quick death administered by himself. Though I felt the film unwisely released itself from a duty to see this relationship through to its conclusion, I found it to be a moving meditation on love and loss.
Maggie is directed by Henry Hobson and is being released nationwide by Pioneer Films on May 13. You can also rent the film on Amazon Instant Video for $6.99.