As movies go, Maggie is pretty much doomed.
Adults looking for a gentle, emotional film that explores tough questions will be turned away by the fact the movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. Teens looking for a zombie-laden slaughterfest will be disappointed to discover that, while zombies do appear in the movie, they appear only briefly and play very minor roles.
Add a virtually nonexistent ad budget to star aversion and bad word of mouth, and you’ve got a formula that guarantees most people won’t see Maggie until the movie moves to Netflix. (You can already rent it for six bucks from Amazon streaming.)
And that’s a shame, because Maggie is a surprising (if imperfect) meditation on loss.
After an outbreak of the “necroambulist virus” (from the Greek “necro,” meaning “dead” and the Latin “ambulatorious,” meaning “to walk” — get it? get it?), middle America devolves into a smoldering wasteland. Society hangs together by the barest of threads, mostly thanks to a government program that demands all infected people be placed into quarantine to die.
In most zombie movies, the transition from bitten human to slobbering ghoul takes seconds (28 Days Later) or hours (The Walking Dead). But in Maggie, the virus takes weeks to run its course, leaving families to deal with the difficult, emotional, and messy business of watching a loved one slowly lose a battle with a deadly disease.
This thoughtful tweaking of an otherwise too-familiar formula is what gives Maggie its power, especially when combined with a remarkably thoughtful performances from Schwarzenegger (who finally finds himself fighting a foe that muscles and firepower cannot overcome) and Abigail Breslin (as Schwarzenegger’s infected daughter, Maggie, whose final days evoke both tenderness and horror).
When a loved one’s diagnosis leaves no room for hope, what’s the kindest thing to do? Do you submit them to a long, clinical nightmare or care for them at home? Do you resolve to see things through to the bitterest of ends or provide them a gentle exit before their dignity and personhood are stripped away? And if you choose the latter … how do you know when the time to go has come?
These are the questions at the heart of Maggie, which, in the end, has more to do with the duties of the living than the state of being undead. Recommended.