Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin
Director: Henry Hobson
Produced on a minuscule budget (approximately $6 million), this surprisingly effective independent film marks the feature-film debuts of scriptwriter John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson. A sombre zombie drama, Maggie steers clear of the clichés associated with the genre, concentrating instead on the troubling theme of parenthood and death. The outcome ranks alongside the prime horror films of maestros like Sam Raimi and George A Romero.
Maintaining control of the narrative from the eerie opening sequence to the heartfelt finale, British helmer Hobson keeps the viewer riveted in the hard-hitting tale of a pandemic for which no cure has yet been discovered.
The plot kicks into gear when the titular teenager (Little Miss Sunshine child star Breslin, sufficiently angsty) is infected with the deadly virus. As the slow-working disease progresses, her devoted father (Schwarzenegger, cast against type) is determined to grapple with the ever-worsening situation.
Despite being pushed to the limit, the patriarch sticks by his daughter’s side, refusing to have her quarantined even after she begins to ‘turn’ into a flesh-munching ghoul.
The focus is on subtly ratcheting up the tension rather than unleashing a barrage of explicitly gory scenes. In fact, most of the violence is staged off-screen.
The proceedings are further enlivened by the razor-sharp editing (Jane Rizzo) and a plaintive music score composed by David Wingo.
Making exemplary use of close-ups, Lukas Ettlin’s cinematography dazzles with its visual verve. The gloomy rural landscape enhances the feeling of entrapment. Alternating between scenes of genuine tenderness — the doomed daughter’s final kiss with her similarly infected boyfriend — and startling bursts of terror — the father’s ‘mercy killing’ of a malignant neighbour and his child — the story plays out as an intense domestic tragedy.
Meanwhile, the young lady strives to live a normal life, even painting her toenails before stepping out for a reunion with her school friends.
Heading an excellent ensemble, Arnold Schwarzenegger brings unexpected complexity and compassion to his role of the distraught father.
A zombie film of unusual depth, Maggie gives American horror cinema the shot in the arm it so desperately needs. Miss it at your peril.
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