Tragedy outweighs horror in ‘Maggie’

Arnold can’t quite pull off the role of the anguished father in Maggie.

Two and a half stars

Maggie Abigail Breslin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joely Richardson. Directed by Henry Hobson. Rated PG-13. Available on Video on Demand.

Most zombie movies either start with the outbreak, watching society fall apart, or depict the aftermath, as the undead have already overrun civilization. But Maggie begins after its zombie epidemic (called the “necroambulist” virus) has essentially ended, while society is rebuilding and the few remaining infected are being quarantined and disposed of. Unfortunately for farmer Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger), that includes his teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin), who has a few weeks after being bitten before she experiences “the turn.”

Wade brings Maggie back to the family farm, where he and Maggie’s stepmother (Joely Richardson) care for her as best they can, as she literally decays before their eyes. For a zombie movie, Maggie is remarkably somber, with a muted, mostly gray color palette and an omnipresent mournful score. There are a few horrific moments, but overall this is a serious, downbeat drama, featuring the most subdued performance Schwarzenegger has ever given. At its most maudlin, it’s like a terminal-disease tearjerker with zombieism in place of cancer.

Schwarzenegger can’t quite pull off the role of the anguished father, and the intense emotional moments mostly ring false. The best scene features Maggie hanging out with her friends as they say goodbye without actually saying it, and she gets one last night of companionship with an ex-boyfriend who’s also been infected. For a brief moment, the movie evokes the sadness and regret that it can’t manage to reach the rest of the time.

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