The post-apacolyptic genre is sort of like a pessimist’s wet dream: civilized humanity torn to shreds, basic services and safety measures are completely erased, mankind reduced to the days of literal hunting and gathering just to see the next sunrise. Of course in recent years, the classic zombie ploy has been the go-to excuse for humanity’s struggle to survive, and Maggie carves out a nice little place for itself amongst it’s brethren by abandoning all sense of hope and happy endings, and instead focusing on the journey before “the turn”.
Almost from the very first few minutes, there’s a different kind of quiet lingering below the surface. Setting aside the trademark gore and suspense from the average zombie flick, Maggie’s is a tragic, depressing kind of quiet; no running and hiding, just biding time until the inevitable finally happens. Wade’s daughter Maggie (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, respectively) has been bitten by one of the infected, and doctors have already signed her death warrant. Wade is given the instructions assigned by the CDC regarding quarantine, and that is that. Through the next eighty minutes, we depressingly look on as Wade’s family gradually leaves for the sake of safety, and Wade refuses to break his vow of protecting his daughter, when all she wants him to do is end it.
This level of emotional heft is rare for a Schwarzenegger film, but the action icon carries it better than any other performance of his entire career. His tired eyes gaze across the smoking fields of the Midwest with a broken and hopeless desperation. Even more beautifully executed is Breslin’s take on Maggie, and daresay eclipses Arnold entirely by exhibiting the exact opposite of subtle emotion. There is no serenity for Maggie; there is only the knowledge that soon she will lose control and “turn”.
What Mggie lacks in action it more than makes up for with picturesque cinematography that vaults from the screen with haunting beauty. Henry Hobson tells a story that, while somewhat predictable, keeps the viewer engaged from the opening frame with emotion instead of sizzle. There is a steady tension that resonates through every frame, with the inevitable finality of what is to come looming ahead.
With a short dragging in the second act, Maggie regains speed and ends at the perfect moment, without need to pander to the audience or stretch for a longer screen time. Hobson uses nearly every scene to its utmost emotional efficiency, and the credits leave you with a sorrowful cry to the doomed pair. Despite such a sad theme, Maggie is a well-needed twist in the zombie-verse.