It may be heresy to declare but most zombie films are pretty damn dull. There are exceptions of course, from the post-capitalist allegories of Romero through to a playful Edgar Wright chucking vinyl records at a mopey undead neighbour. Sometimes you get fast zombies (World War Z), sometimes slow (are we going to count It Follows?), and sometimes we get gorefests (too many to mention).
But usually we get some gorily made up slouchy thing that shuffles towards camera, covered in some sort of infectious ooze intent on sinking their chompers into their next victim.
Been there, done that.
So credit to Maggie for at least futzing a bit with these (tired) tropes. Yup, this time it’s another incurable outbreak, but in this case we’ve got a dad that’s bringing his infected daughter home for her final days. This is zombie film as palliative care, squeezing out a bit of humanity before the dehumanizing effects take hold.
What also makes things hopeful is the interesting casting – pitting Arnold Schwarzenegger as the kind-hearted dad caring for his daughter played by Abigail Breslin might have set the seeds for a pleasant surprise. Arnie’s been doing good work of late, and in the likes of The Last Stand he’s been demonstrating some true on-screen charisma in his post-Governator role.
Alas, any subtlety of performance is marred not only by a hokey and predictable story that feels both slight and repetitive, but by some truly appalling filmmaking. The scenes rarely seem to connect, and any sense of suspense is pretty much abandoned. Worse, the film is truly ugly, a mush of underexposed and lifeless imagery that must have been an attempt at outdoing Gordon Willis but instead feels like the most amateur of productions.
It’s the sense that the film looks like shit but they wanted it to that makes the film more annoying than most. Incompetence is excusable, but there feels like a willful disregard for the visual palate of the film, like they wanted to get so far away from glossy and keylit that they went for dank as a substitute for moody. It’s a technique as egregious as nausea cam or plotless found footage, and I choose to believe that these filmmakers are better than the repulsive looking thing audiences get to experience. Its saving grace will no doubt be that the majority of audiences will be watching it on improperly calibrated torch mode-set LCDs, where the digital noise and artificial brightness might actually give the film some unintended punch.
Story wise we get a general melodrama, checking off all the narrative boxes until a ending that’s part cop-out, part inevitable solution to leave everyone with clean hands.
So, we’re left with a film that’s no delight to actually watch, with performances that are decent if perhaps forgettable, and a narrative that relies on some of the more dull genre elements to prod audiences into feigning interest. It’s fair to say that some zombie lovers will watch anything that even tangentially feeds their insatiable hunger, and this film may work for them as a mildly appetizing snack. Still, even for the most ravenous of fans there’s little in Maggie to chew on, and for the rest of us it’s a pretty unpalatable meal indeed.