Poor zombies. Almost 50 years after George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead—and after all the zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie books, and zombie video games we've been bombarded with—it's hard to think of a monster that's more thoroughly worn out its welcome. It's a rare story that can still make zombies interesting—and while Maggie isn't one of those, it certainly tries.
Set in a near-future where the effects of a "necroambulist virus" have turned the American Midwest into a desaturated dystopia, the film follows Maggie (Abigail Breslin), a dumb teenager who went and got herself infected, and her dad, Sad Arnold (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who shuffles around and spends a lot of time stoically gazing into the distance, being very sad that his daughter is slowly turning into a zombie. For now, Maggie's nice enough, but she keeps getting grosser and more zombie-like; sometime soon, Sad Arnold knows, he's probably going to have to shoot her in the head.
Last year, in Still Alice, Julianne Moore played a rich New Yorker dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's; in charting both that character's disintegration and the reactions of her family, Still Alice ended up playing like a horror movie. Unexpectedly—and kind of thankfully—Maggie is closer to that film than it is to, say, the dull-witted gross-outs of The Walking Dead. With slow pacing, a handheld camera, and a few squirmy bits of body horror, director Henry Hobson is most interested in how emo everybody is about Maggie's terminal disease. Alas, it only works in spurts, and the movie crawls by until it wheezes to an underwhelming conclusion.
There is something remarkable here, though: Sad Arnold, with his weary-eyed devotion to his rotting daughter. Schwarzenegger’s post-gubernatorial career has been clunky—after his interesting choices in Sabotage and Escape Plan were ignored by audiences, he’s retreating to unasked-for retreads of past glories (Terminator 5 comes out this summer, and he keeps threatening to make sequels to Twins and Conan). His understated performance here, though, is legitimately touching.The best thing about Maggie is how Schwarzenegger's character carries his heavy, hopeless sentimentality—even as he knows, as well as anybody, that the world he lives in has no need for it.