In the aftermath of a zombie pandemic, farmer Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers his eldest daughter, teenager Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is among the infected, detained in a city hospital, the festering bite on her arm, a death sentence.

Against medical and governmental advice, Wade packs his two younger kids off to visit relatives and brings Maggie home to their Midwest farm. The virus takes a few weeks to run it’s course and Wade is determined that Maggie will spend that time with people who love her.

But as Maggie starts to ‘turn’ Wade finds himself faced with a horrific choice: should he take Maggie to a quarantine centre, a virtual concentration camp where the infected are euthaised, or should he take matters into his own hands…

“Zombies, man! They creep me out!”

So says Dennis Hopper’s smooth, despotic character in George A. Romero’s post zombie apocalypse Land Of The Dead.

He’s less right every day.

As a society, we get the monsters we deserve, the ones who speak to who we are now and what we fear, a product of our time. For the Victorians, it was the vampire; charming, erudite Eurotrash, the French Disease in a cape, representing every dark, twisted, taboo desire our sexually repressed, buttoned-up Victorian ancestors fantasised about when they were with their child doxie rather than their wives. Stephanie Meyer and her sexless sparkle fairies have pretty much ruined it for everyone now but the vamp used to be the hottest monster on the block.

In the wake of World War 2 our monsters entered the Atomic Age, Godzilla and Them! playing on our Cold War fears of Hiroshima and Mutually Assured Destruction, the radioactive children of The Damned our more insidious terror of mutation.

In the 1970s, with the war in Vietnam beamed directly into our homes by the nightly news, the monsters became both more human and less; the cannibalistic family units of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, the rapists and killers of The Last House On The Left, lying in wait to ambush unwary ordinary Americans who have the temerity to leave their nice middle class suburban homes in search of adventure, eventually morphing into the masked, mute, indestructible serial slashers, stalking the streets of Haddonfield and the woods around Camp Crystal Lake, punishing teenagers for their active sexualities and teaching them true love waits the hard way at the point of a knife or edge of a machete.

Our current default monster du jour, the zombie, has evolved from the voodoo-entranced native slaves of the ‘30s and White Zombie to today’s flesh-eating catch-all metaphor for…well, practically anything. Rampant capitalism, mindless consumerism, terrorism, viral epidemics, STDs, ecological collapse, climate change, racism, the financial collapse, unemployment, societal upheaval, the zombie, whether slow and shambling or sprinting and free-running, represents the failure of our institutions, the collapse of our society, the disintegration of community. In the face of rapacious, mindless appetite we are rendered helpless, impotent; we are consumed.

What sets Henry Hobson’s melancholy Maggie apart then is that the Zombie Apocalypse came and we made it through. Society didn’t collapse. Governments didn’t fall. We did not devolve into the lawlessness and anarchy beloved of Millennial filmmakers. There’s little in the way of action, certainly nothing you’d expect from an Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie.

Instead it’s a dark, sombre work, a low-key drama about losing a child to a terminal illness closer to My Sister’s Keeper (which also starred Breslin) or The Fault In Our Stars than it is to the likes of Night Of The Living Dead and while Breslin is wonderful as the doomed teenager coming to terms with her impending mortality, the film is Schwarzenneger’s, the Austrian Oak giving perhaps his finest, most nuanced performance, a raw, mournful portrait of thwarted masculinity, powerless in the face of his child’s fate. It’s a shame then that John Scott 3’s script doesn’t do them justice and while Hobson’s film has a pretty, autumnal look, it feels like a box-ticking exercise in genre, lacks the intimacy to truly make you feel for the characters or the very human tragedy they are experiencing.

Handsome but ultimately dissatisfying, Maggie is nearly a great zombie movie.

Movie Review: Maggie
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