"Thoughtful" and "somber" are not words one traditionally uses to describe anything starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially since his career rebirth, but those words apply to Maggie, the most surprising film of his muscular career. Surprising because the film deals with a world in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, but you won't find Schwarzenegger stacking up piles of undead corpses or anything like that. Instead, Maggie is an affecting family drama that should appeal to fans of The Walking Dead rather than those expecting Dawn of the Dead.
Directed by graphic designer Henry Hobson, the atmosphere is a portrait of misery and despair in the wake of a zombie virus outbreak. Schwarzenegger is Wade, a stoic Midwestern farmer who tracks down his runaway daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) and discovers she's been infected by "The Turn". While the worst of the chaos seems to be over, the world has settled into a "quarantine and eliminate" scenario for the diseased, but Wade isn't about to let that happen to his terrified daughter. Instead he chooses to bring her back home where his second wife (Joely Richardson) and her two kids await for the morbid family reunion.
Hobson and screenwriter John Scott 3 explore parental denial and terminal illness, while the whole zombie aspect is basically just a grim window dressing. They're more concerned with the dynamics of a family in a perpetual state of mourning, and the distressing effect illness can have on the family structure. Wade is doing what any parent would want to do for their dying child, which is take care of them and make their final days comfortable, but he's also completely delusional and unprepared for the reality. Everyone, including his wife, knows what needs to be done but he either doesn't see it or refuses to accept it. This doesn't make for the most exciting movie in the world; in fact it's pretty slow even for 90-minutes in length, but the emotions are agonizingly real. Even the happy moments, like a fun, romantic night out between Maggie and her infected boyfriend, is tinged with sadness.
It isn't long before Maggie's deteriorating condition becomes a concern for more than just Wade. The police aggressively push for her to be quarantined, but Wade persistently acts as if he and his daughter are the only two people left in the entire world. The focus on Wade's grief takes away from some of the deeper issues that could have been explored, like the conflict within the household itself. But one has to appreciate that the film doesn't go in the most obvious of directions. There are only a couple of scenes where Wade is forced to kill and there is weight behind those decisions that Schwarzenegger carries on his broad shoulders. Interestingly, his action-hero past adds certain humbleness, an unexpected gravity to his performance. He doesn't need to say a lot to be effective here. Will Maggie steer Schwarzenegger away from blockbusters? Probably not, but it goes a long way in showing that in the right kind of film and the perfect role, Schwarzenegger is capable of more than being an expendable terminator.