As his infected, teenage daughter, the titular Maggie (Breslin), chops off one of her own digits to delay the inevitable consumption of her mind, body and perhaps soul, light from the bright Midwestern sun barely illuminates the gloomy kitchen. The colour palette throughout is drabber-than-drab greys, browns and more greys. At times, Maggie moves dangerously close to becoming a black-and-white film – a stylistic choice that actually would have done the film a favour or two.
Where Hobson nails the tone of John Scott 3’s 2011 Blacklisted screenplay, he also infuses it with a further morbidity that really separates this latest “my loved one is a zombie” flick from the rest of the herd (Life After Beth, Burying the Ex). The cinematography from Lukas Ettlin (using less showy/blockbuster-y technique here than in the kind-of underrated Battle: Los Angeles – albeit a similar sense of lighting) gives us beautiful shots which tread the line between dream and nightmare.
Apt, considering this idyllic US countryside with all its homely neighbours is tainted by blight, fear and human loss. There are obvious thematic resonances with the idea that the great American heartland is dying, rotting to its core, all wholesomeness drained out of the States to its core in the 21st Century; it’s a dire aesthetic that leads to Maggie being a bit of a slog. Yet it is rather well executed, enough to have the film be a worthwhile experience – albeit perhaps one better enjoyed from the comfort of your own home.
The real draw is Abigail Breslin, who invests in and sells her slow, dreary transformation into a monster with the requisite amount of emotion for a teenager, coupled with a solid dose of pathos to have the slow, creeping infection similarly affect adults. As an analogy for puberty, Maggie is working on a few different levels – mostly thanks to Breslin’s portrayal as a regular Midwestern teen dealing with things no one ever should.
A question mark hanging over the film for most people will be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal as salt-of-the-earth farmer Wade, here fully committing himself to the role and the film but not quite pulling off some of the dialogue – which was clearly written for someone with more of a Southern drawl (hearing him force out “You and me go back a ways, and you’ve always done right by me and mine” to a local sheriff is cringe-worthy in how ill it fits the Austrian Oak). The sketchy dialogue/acting combo aside, Schwarzenegger’s relationship with Breslin is lived-in and believable; the emotional (dis)connection between the two is earned over the course of the film. When you throw in Joely Richardson as second wife/stepmum Caroline, the complete image is one of a very real, authentic, modern Midwestern family.
When the credits roll following a moving, arguably inevitable conclusion, a feeling resides that suggests you’ve had only a couple bites of a decent meal before it was taken away from you. Hobson’s film never transcends its atmosphere and (admittedly strong) character work to become something more; it merely feels like another take-it-or-leave-it entry into the zombie sub-genre cannon. That said, whatever Hobson and co. do next will certainly be one to keep an eye out for.
Review by Dan Woburn
[SRA value=”3″ type=”BIG”]