MaggieTwenty-five years ago, Maggie would have been a profoundly different movie.

Cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie back then, and the only question would have been whether the one-line wisecracks would have outnumbered the body count.

Skip Arnold and go with the same script of the film that opened this weekend, and Maggie would have been widely viewed as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic and the societal shunning of its victims.

In 2015, the film is an oddity, neither action adventure nor art house fare, with Schwarzenegger cast against type as part of his second act as a movie star after his hiatus in politics. The story is simple – a   simple, decent farmer must protect his daughter who has become infected with a disease that justifiably provokes fear in his community as well as in his own family.

The opening credits of the most recent season of The Walking Dead gave glimpses into the effects of the zombie apocalypse on rural areas. Maggie can be almost be seen as an episode where the credits stopped and the show showed how it all came to that point of devastation for one small town.

Zombies in Maggie are not anonymous, lumbering monsters. They are your neighbors and their children. You look for something in their eyes even as you defend yourself. There is no glory in the kill, only shame and sadness and second guessing.

The movie is a reminder that the end of the world is the most personal of all tragedies. Victims must go into quarantine at a certain point of their illness, with the assurance they will be treated humanely. No one believes it. The government talks of falling infection rates, not of cures, and don’t be caught out after the 8:00 curfew.

Agriculture is affected as well, and crops must be burnt. The smokes fills the sky, creating the grey pallor that never lifts and reenforces the feel of nuclear winter. The characters are primarily grim-faced white men, who struggle to keep a sense of humanity as they keep to their duties: doctor, policeman, parent.

Farmer Wade (Schwarzenegger) rescues his daughter from a hospital at the start of the film. Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been bit, is infected, and will die. We never find out by whom and there’s no point in asking why. The only questions here are when will the end come and what will you do to protect the person and those around you until that time.

The most effective element in the family dynamic in the movie is the presence of Joely Richardson as Caroline, Wade’s second wife and Maggie’s stepmother. Caroline must cook and care for both under the suspicion that she is less committed because she is not the biological mother, a brutally realistic weight that she labors under and that gives her scenes all the more poignancy.

Director Henry Hobson and screenwriter John Scott 3 are feature film first timers and perform respectably in their maiden efforts. Still, the film suffers from pacing problems, as too often a sense of urgency is lost in the establishment of mood. Scott’s script puts too much demand on the character of Wade at times. It’s a not a knock on Schwarzenegger that his weakest points are when he’s called on to speak at length in awkward reminiscences. Other than those moments, Arnold performs admirably. He has never been more human and more convincing.

Breslin is also quite strong, although we are left wanting more of her back story. The brief scenes with her friends play well, but the tragedy would be greater if we knew even more about the heroine. As is, the ending is simple, but effective, and if Maggie is not fully successful or satisfying, nor is it anything less than it sets out to be.

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