I really can’t put my finger on it.
Certainly, most movie-goers don’t think of Schwarzenegger as a well-rounded actor who can render his feelings without words, and I was one as well, but there was a movie a while back that sort of changed my mind. The movie was The Last Stand, where Arnold played a sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border where a drug cartel leader had to travel through to get out of the country. The movie was your typical action-drama fare and was pretty forgettable. But there was one little scene within the film that made me take notice and had me realizing that Schwarzenegger had some acting chops. It was just a quick little scene where one of his deputies was in the back of a police cruiser a, dying, and Schwarzenegger’s character opened up the door to see about getting him into the hospital. Although you couldn’t see the deputy or knew if he was alive or dead, but because of Arnold’s facial expression, he was able to tell us how bad the deputy was without saying a word. I thought it was a powerful scene in that forgettable movie and it changed my opinion of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s acting credibility.A teenage girl in the Midwest, Maggie Vogel (Abigail Breslin), becomes infected by an outbreak of a disease that slowly turns the infected into cannibalistic zombies. During her transformation, her loving father, Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stays by her side.
You may remember Abigail Breslin from another zombie movie a few years back—Zombieland—so this would be her second film of said genre. She was also the cute little girl from Signs who collected all the water in glasses that helped in the climax of that movie. She’s really grown into a fine actress and holds her own here in this film alongside Schwarzenegger. The chemistry is palpable between them and believable in every sense, especially the love he has for her and how he conveys the difficulty he’s facing, realizing that he’s going to have to eventually deal with his daughter when she finally turns. Most zombie films show characters not having a problem with taking out someone who turns, but you can see—and understand—his apprehension.
Unlike most zombie films, the victims in this one take days to turn, giving friends and family time with them which makes it harder to accept. You can see that, not only in Schwarzenegger’s performance but in other supporting performers as well. And that’s where this movie might lose some people, that they might expect this to be like Dawn of the Dead or World War Z…but it’s a drama first and foremost, not a full-fledged zombie flick. As a matter of fact, I really don’t understand why they had to make the epidemic a zombie infection…it could’ve—and maybe should’ve—been something more rational, like some returning plague from centuries ago. Having it be a contagion where people return from the dead gives the film a unrealistic approach and takes away from the melancholy the characters are going through.
The filmmakers also may have provided themselves a disservice by introducing that zombie theme to this, as audiences would probably want to see some “Walking Dead” type of tropes to it and being let down when discovering it’s more about the family drama than zombies. With all that in mind, you have to go into this movie understanding what it is and how it’s going to play out, because it’s a slow burn for sure with not much of an exciting payout at the end.
But back to what I’d mentioned about Schwarzenegger and his evolved acting abilities, we see it here throughout and I was pleasantly surprised. Although I’m always taken out of the movie at first with his thick Austrian accent, very quickly I went with it here and enjoyed his performance throughout, really feeling what he, as a father, was going through. Even though it’s really not a real life sickness, you can substitute zombism (or the "necroambulist infection" as it’s called in the movie) for any terminal illness and you can put yourself in his place with the further addition that he was going to have to euthanize his daughter—or, at least, condemn her into a quarantine zone where she'll suffer—at some point in the near future.
So, what’s my final “bit” on Maggie?
I liked the film a lot, although it took a little time to realize I wasn’t going to get a traveling zombie-hunting flick. You have to go into this movie understanding it’s a family drama about the relationship between a father and his terminally ill daughter. The zombie aspect is just a visual backdrop that is not important to the story besides to set up some scares and to give the supporting characters reason to be apprehensive towards the main character’s illness. The dynamic between Schwarzenegger and Breslin is what this film is about and should be viewed with that in mind. I recommend this film for that reason alone.
Fun fact: Schwarzenegger loved this script so much that he agreed to do the movie for free.
Anyway, that’s my review…thanks for reading!