The zombie subgenre allows for many different approaches: from straightforward action to dystopian horror, from outright comedy to heartfelt romance.
“Maggie,” which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a father caring for his daughter (Abigail Breslin) while she slowly turns into one of the undead, is the zombie movie re-imagined as a disease picture. Director Henry Hobson, working from a script by John Scott III, dispenses of any semblance of lightheartedness for grim realism that endeavors to capture the devastation of dying.
It’s not your everyday Schwarzenegger movie; the picture challenges its iconic star to do more actual acting than he has in years. There’s hardly any violence and virtually no perspective of events larger than the suffering going on within the confines of the family’s home and farm, which is clothed in a layer of perpetual dust and photographed in the faded sepia tones of a Depression-era photograph.
From the time that George A. Romero gave birth to the modern-era zombie in “Night of the Living Dead,” the creatures have fundamentally served as metaphors for the ravages of disease and the decaying of the soul. So it’s not like “Maggie” is traversing new ground here; it’s simply stripping away any sort of distracting pretense and getting right at the essence of what these narratives are all about.
In one sense, that’s admirable. There’s genuine artistic credibility in the subtle approach. Whatever power there is to be found here comes because the filmmaker understands how to capture his star: Schwarzenegger’s grizzled, hardened face has never seemed to portend more of a burden, captured in close-up as his character helplessly considers his daughter’s demise.
The movie is suffused in his pain; it feels real.
Still, there’s a reason authors and filmmakers who work in this terrain typically try to dress things up; the underlying essence is just not that interesting. At least, it isn’t now, some 47 years after Romero’s landmark achievement and well past the point where there are any surprises left in the DNA of these stories. “Maggie” just isn’t complicated enough, playing as a slow march toward the inevitable, even if it’s made with precision and intelligence.