It’s a mistake, not to mention misleading, to promo this father-daughter relationship drama, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin, as a zombiefest. Hey, lets go to the movies and watch the Terminator take on the walking dead. Not a bad idea. But that’s not what’s on the menu in Maggie.
In his debut as a feature director, British graphic designer Henry Hobson takes a solemn, subtly affecting approach. Working from a script by newcomer John Scott 3, Hobson presents us with a story set in a time of viral epidemic, in which those infected begin a slow process of decay before being consigned to extermination camps. Midwestern farmer Wade Vogel (Schwarzenegger) is determined that such a fate will not befall his 16-year-old daughter Maggie (Breslin). Wade had promised Maggie’s late mother that he would take care of their child no matter what. Now the day of “no matter what” has come. Wade brings the slowly deteriorating Maggie to the farm his shares with his new wife Caroline (Joely Richardson), their own two kids have been sent away for safekeeping. It’s a tense business, and Hobson artfullly shows the strain of a family living with a plague. Maggie isn’t dangerous — yet.
Breslin, an Oscar nominee for Little Miss Sunshine, excels at revealing a scared teenager putting on a tough front act but wondering how soon she’ll be terrified of herself. In a rending emotional reunion with boyfriend Trent (the excellent Bryce Romero), further advanced in his infection, the girl sees a bleak future. But the movie centers on Maggie’s dependence on her father, a stoic man torn between protecting his daughter or taking out his gun and making it quick. Schwarzenegger rises to the challenge of a role that focuses on the interior life of a man in crisis. He does himself proud with a heartfelt performance that is surely his gentlest, most humane screen acting. Gore is kept to a minimum, a fact likely to disappoint audiences out for blood. It’s a changed Schwarzenegger on view in Maggie, and the change becomes him.