While some zombie movies deliver commentary about the state of society, others simply set out to entertain audiences with tales of the undead. Typically, the one thing both of these kinds of films have in common is their emphasis of the gory aspects of an outbreak. Lifting elements from action movies, these horror pictures incorporate chases, swarms and battles that pit the protagonists against a relentless enemy with few weaknesses. The caveat is most of these films don’t seem realistic. Maggie takes a different approach to a zombie-like virus that gives it a sense of authenticity not often achieved in the subgenre.
In spite of Maggie’s (Abigail Breslin) best efforts to shield her family from her infection, her father, Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger), refuses to let his eldest daughter die amongst strangers. When retrieving her from the hospital, he’s warned of the symptoms and instructed on quarantine procedures. At first Maggie seems fine aside from the gnarly gash on her arm and darkness around her clouding eyes — nothing some bandages and sunglasses can’t conceal. But as the virus spreads, her body tunes into its more predatory senses and her hunger for “meat” becomes insatiable. Somewhat isolated in a rural area, the town’s folks insist the quarantine rules be followed to avoid spreading the infection. But Wade can’t let Maggie go — not yet.
This film is aesthetically bleak. The entire picture has a washed out quality as the virus sweeps across the country, affecting its human population as well as crops and thus food supplies. No time period or specific location is identified, giving the narrative a generic quality of Anywhere, U.S.A. This contributes to its being relatable, but there are several other factors with a greater influence on this characteristic. In spite of this terrible contagion, the world has not nosedived into chaos as generally described. In fact there is still an effective authority maintaining order and containment strategies appear to be relatively effective (however inhumane). Though people exercise caution, life goes on. In addition the condition of the infected seems more convincing, the onset is akin to other viruses and it somewhat parallels situations involving terminal illnesses.
Consistent with its distinction from other typical zombie/infection movies, Henry Hobson’s directorial debut unfolds gradually but evenly. There are no major hills or valleys in the narrative flow as Wade and Maggie try to manage and navigate her disease and its inevitable consequences. Schwarzenegger is remarkably paternal in this subdued role, credibly portraying the part of a concerned father for whom violence is out of character and a last resort — but a course he’s willing to take if necessary. Breslin is a young woman resigned to her fate, but happy to have the opportunity to indulge in her favourite pastimes one last time and say goodbye to her family. Maggie is a very strong character faced with a difficult situation through which she sets a brave example of spirit and will.