Ageing has done nothing to diminish Arnold Schwarzenegger’s screen presence. If anything it’s made him more interesting to watch because finally he seems capable of vulnerability. Back in his 80s’ heyday only the Predator was a physical match for him but now at 65 he seems like a fully rounded human being rather than an unstoppable killing machine. As with his small-town sheriff in the under-appreciated The Last Stand (2013, Kim Jee-woon) Schwarzenegger brings a rough hewn dignity to the role of farmer Wade whose missing daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) turns up in a hospital suffering from an incurable virus. Though the authorities have contained the outbreak those already infected will die. The incubation period is around eight weeks before the virus takes hold so as a kindness they are released into the care of their loved ones until the time comes to quarantine them. This plan seems flawed if not outright insane and perhaps inadvertently cruel as families watch the humanity slowly leave those they care about. Wade is naturally protective of his daughter but aware eventually she will pose a threat to him and his wife (Joely Richardson).
Zombie films have become all too prevalent in the horror genre but Maggie does try to do something different. While George Romero’s zombies in his classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) were primarily parodies of human beings, rotting shells with no self-awareness left, only a hunger for human flesh, here they are more like ghosts from a Japanese horror film. There presence haunts the living. They themselves seem afflicted by a terrible sadness which runs through the film. Maggie is more unsettling than frightening. Really it’s about loss and the destructiveness of being unable to let go. Families wait too long to quarantine their loved ones and become their victims. At one point Wade encounters a zombified father and daughter in the woods, a harbinger of what may happen to him if he refuses to take the required action when the moment comes.
Filmed like a Malick influenced indie rather than a horror movie Maggie makes a decent fist of trying to subvert genre expectations. Hobson goes for mood over shocks and mostly succeeds. A weak ending undercuts the dilemma faced by Wade and lessens the impact but this is an intriguing addiction to the zombie canon. Maybe it’s time for a moratorium altogether though. Like that other overused horror icon the vampire, it’s time they stayed in their coffins for a bit.