“I’ve come to the city. Please don’t come for me. There’s a curfew here.” Things have been bad since the Necroambulist virus hit; contingencies have been put in place, life goes on, but it has deeply affected every society where it has taken hold. Farmers burn their crops in hopes that it will slow the spread. Quarantine facilities have been set up for those who are infected when the disease has progressed to the point where it begins to assert itself, but it is a process of weeks rather than hours or minutes.
Wade Vogel (genre legend Arnold Schwarzenegger) has three children whom he loves, Bobby, Molly and the eldest, Maggie (Haunter’s Abigail Breslin); Maggie has been bitten. Taking her back from the city to their remote farmhouse, Bobby and Molly are sent to stay with their aunt while Maggie remains with her father and stepmother Caroline (Red Lights’ Joely Richardson) as the virus progresses through her body.
The feature debut of director Henry Hobson, an artistic jack-of-many-trades though principally a title designer (Fright Night, The Thing, Prophets of Science Fiction), had Maggie been released ten years ago it would have been considered ground breaking, an important and vital film which would redefine the zombie genre, but instead it is an old graveyard which is being trampled.
The Walking Dead (on which Hobson worked on the first season credits), In the Flesh and Z Nation have between them eight complete television seasons and the “domestication” of zombies has been done in Life After Beth (2014), Miss Zombie (2014), Warm Bodies (2013) and Fido (2006) to name but a few.
John Scott 3’s script is itself a reanimated shambling corpse with not one original idea in its decomposing brain, the scene in the doctor’s office where another parent calls her children away from Maggie a recurrence of An Early Frost three decades later.
Of these, The Walking Dead and In the Flesh are the key touchstones, Hobson having lifted the drained colour palette of AMC’s sepia tinted show and Scott the “they are among us, in our community, in our family” narrative of the short lived BBC Three minseries, but the categorisation of the illness and the marginal body count aside, this could be any protracted ninety minute Hallmark or Time Life drama about a family grieving for the imminent loss of a child.
Playing firmly against type, former Conan and Terminator Schwarzenegger is the talking point of this mediocre film without which it would most likely not have gathered a fraction of the interest his name automatically generates.
Now in his mid-sixties and also listed as producer he is not trying to be a hero and it suits him, but while his performance serves the character nor is it particularly challenging, largely requiring him to remain sombre, brooding and silent, he and his daughter isolated in opposite corners of the washed out frame.
Instead it is Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine herself, who carries the film as much as is possible as she stifles her fear and tries to spend time with her friends and meets Trent (Bryce Romero), a teenage boy whose pathology is more advanced than hers, bonding with him in their moments by the campfire, but all is padding of the minimal narrative, a drawn out eulogy.
While beautifully filmed, the parade of pain, the endless weeping and gnashing of teeth against the unfairness of life becomes an indulgence, and for the loss of a loved one the death and brief resurrection of Joyce Summers generated immeasurably more genuine horror and anguish than this mawkish and bungled attempt at emotion.