– How about a zombie film? Starring Alpha-Republican-hardman Arnold Schwarzenegger, you say.
– Nah, I say. I think I’ll pass. I mean, I do quite like stories of the living dead, but I really can’t be doing with all that boring Mr Macho stuff.
– Go on, you say; it might be good. It’s been plucked from Hollywood’s infamous ‘Black List’ of unproduced scripts and championed by Schwarzenegger himself.
– And that’s supposed to make it better?
– Well, we haven’t got anything else planned for the evening.
And, you know I’m a sucker for the whole cinematic experience, even if I’m not so keen on the movie, so yeah, why not? And off we go.
And, oh, but am I glad we did.
Maggie is a zombie movie unlike any I have ever seen. John A Scott III’s debut screenplay is slow and tender, warm and sad. There’s only minimal lurching and wounding, and the bullets put through the zombies’ heads are shot reluctantly and with compassion. Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is a wayward teen, who, having run off to explore the bright lights of the big city, calls home to ask her father (Schwarzenegger) for help. She has been infected and is in quarantine.
This particular dystopia is more humane than most. Infected people are assessed and then allowed home to live out the remainder of their ‘human’ days. When the time comes, they are supposed to return to quarantine, where they will be dispatched via lethal injection. Police patrols have lists of those on furlough, and round up those whose families struggle to give them up. The focus then is not on survival; it’s not about encountering the slavering hoards and protecting what you have from others who want in. Instead, this is the story of a family learning to let go.
There’s not much in the way of backstory or character development – and I think that’s to the film’s credit. Maggie’s likes and dislikes, dreams and fears are just not that important now. She and her family are living in the present, dealing with the day-to-day. We are trusted to engage with their predicament on this human level; the fripperies we use to label and identify are stripped away and we are left with just the basics: love and empathy and muddling-through. I thought it was wonderful. Even the dragged-out ending (Now? No. Now? Not yet. Now?) served to underline the hardship: how do we know when the time is right; when are we ever ready to accept a loved one’s death?
So this is a zombie movie, yes, but it’s also unlikely to appeal to those in search of frights and thrills. It’s more of an allegory, really, for the way we deal with disease and disaster. (And yes, I know that zombie movies are usually allegorical to some degree, but this is one more so. It’s Allegory Plus.)
It’s definitely worth watching.