What makes a zombie film interesting? What intrigues us about the sub-genre of horror that has established itself as a top vehicle next to vampires and werewolves on the starting line? Zombie films are known for their near-parody of social and political structures. Their fear is instituted through a combined sense of claustrophobia and agoraphobia. It introduces both a human condition of trying to survive amidst monsters, but monsters that you may have known on a personal level. Because the genre tackles such powerful issues in a seemingly superficial shell, it has thrived with many audiences over the decades.
Zombies, or variations therein, have dominated the horror genre since George A. Romero set the model. As each film comes out, it follows this model while establishing its own twist to give the putrifying decay some freshness. In 28 Days Later it was turned into a rage virus. In World War Z it was a world-wide pandemic in the vein of apocalyptic disaster films. In Warm Bodies the sub-genre was turned into a dark romance. In Zombieland, a dark comedy. The sub-genre has spanned every other genre and seemingly touched on every motif. So where could the genre go where it hasn't been?
In Maggie, the premise goes in the direction of an indie drama set in a pseudo-apocalyptic world of semi-horror themes using zombies. It is seemingly a match made in heaven for those with significant others that lack a desire for the macabre. It provides a horror context from which the horror-centric can feed, while the significant other can find their tear-starved cheeks dampened. But does the model work?
Perhaps zombie film history can shed some light on the question. For the personal approach of focusing on a single victim's bite wound and inevitable death and turn is not a foreign concept. In fact, many zombie films have a scene or two in their plots that tackle this dramatic property that is at the core of the zombie genre. Dawn of the Dead (2004) had a rather moving scene in which a dying victim says, "You want every single second," before expiring. 28 Days Later has a tearful scene in which an otherwise soft-spoken Brendan Gleeson becomes infected and begs his daughter to leave him while he is turning.
And what Maggie thought it could capitalize on is a conceptual film focused merely on the perspective of a father and his bitten daughter. Why wouldn't a film centered entirely on the concept of a grieving father and a zombifying daughter succeed when such a scene is often the most powerful moment in other zombie films? Perhaps because the human struggle and social and moral conflict is only strong in a shortened span of time. And sadly, this is the case in Maggie.
Arnold Schwarzenegger provides a decent performance. Like a diluted Clint Eastwood, he delivers grimmaces that tell his story more than his words. Unfortunately beyond his performance and the valiant attempt at a fresh take on the zombie genre, I have little to praise about the film. It was, for lack of a better word, boring. Nothing happens. Even the moral implications, social commentaries, and dramatic conflicts are diluted by poor structure, ridiculously slow pacing, and a lack of...moments.
The entire film is told in ambiance, with little happenings of consequence. Our one strong moment doesn't even involve the bitten daughter at all (in which Arnie must take a grief-stricken neighbor to the bodies of two zombies he killed to protect his daughter, who just so happened to be the neighbor's family). The film seems to be building to some kind of climax. A showdown of some kind, but what kind? But instead, the film plays out in a way that seems unfulfilling. I couldn't tell what was more upsetting when the credits rolled: Was I more disgruntled by the abrupt ending, or the fact that I was somewhat relieved it was over?