When it comes to fathers saving their daughters, Liam Neeson has the market cornered with his Taken franchise. There is more than one way to save a person, and not all of them involve physically taking down a terrorist ring of human traffickers to do it. Sometimes it’s as simple as treating them like a normal person even when they’re becoming something else.
Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lost everything after the outbreak. His wife died, his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) ran away, and he lost his entire way of life. He married another woman, Caroline (Joely Richardson), who had children of her own, but he never forgot about the promise he made to Maggie’s mother to protect Maggie. Maggie is found by a patrol and held until Wade shows up. Wade convinces them that he will take care of her over the other alternate: Quarantine. Quarantine, while mostly mandatory, is a miserable place to be put since you’re just left to suffer until you eventually turn and are killed. Wade will do everything in his power to keep Maggie safe and take care of her any way he can.
We often forget that even during times that create destruction and war, there is always an uneasy peace that has to be dealt with. it’s not all fear, fighting and frenzy, but also somber reflection and having to cope with the aftermath and permanently changed way of life. The story’s pacing resembles a shambling zombie more than even the contents of the story does. The complete horror aspect is downplayed. The appearance of zombies is sparse because they are establishing a society we don’t often see in zombie films, and that is a working society after the the virus has been mostly contained. We don’t need to see the gore-filled ravages because the society is still quietly living those ravages in a deeper, more visceral way. To make the relationship between the father and daughter characters stronger, the film could have greatly benefited from glimpses of their family dynamic before and during the outbreak, but what it does have is something better: Schwarzenegger.
This isn’t Schwarzenegger’s first time playing a parent, but it is his most genuine attempt at emotional depth that we’ve seen him perform. In all respects, he isn’t the first person I would consider when it comes to portraying a character in a drama. His portfolio consists of playing the bombastic hero with bulging biceps. Oh, and of course there’s Jingle All The Way, but we won’t talk about that one. His performances all depend on being as exaggerated and outrageous as the situations he’s facing. Subtlety wouldn’t do those roles any justice, and that is a prominent aspect of Schwarzenegger’s performances that we enjoy. Maggie showcases a more nuanced side to Schwarzenegger. He is much less of an action hero in this role and more of an everyday hero, in the way that most fathers are to their children. Breslin brought her character to life, ironically playing a teenage girl who is coming of age, while also slowly dying.
In the dreary darkness of Maggie, we see a warming, tender light in the story of a father and daughter living in the dark days after a viral outbreak. The film’s pace may prove too slow for fans of the violent, dismembering, undead hordes, but the film is a great addition to the overall zombie canon. Schwarzenegger’s endearing and powerful performance will give you a change of heart on not only this film, but also when considering Schwarzenegger’s artistic range. The film may all have to do about dying and coping with death, but from it, I can see refreshing new life being breathed into Schwarzenegger’s career. He famously said he’d be back, but I didn’t believe him until now.
RATING: ★★★★★★(6/10 stars)