Maggie review: Arnold Schwarzenegger's zombie flick a rave from the grave
The Governator flexes his acting muscles but it's certainly no horror show like Terminator Genisys, says Andrew Johnston
Much has been said about Maggie being Arnold Schwarzenegger's first foray into horror. But, of course, 1999's End of Days contains enough severed tongues and Satanic rites to fill a dozen Hammer flicks, while The Terminator itself is pretty damn horrific.
Not as horrific as some of the sequels, it could be argued, and Maggie may come as sweet relief to Schwarzenegger fans who found Genisys a disappointment.
So, after a run of box office flops and creative misfires, the erstwhile 'Governator's' comeback has finally hit artistic pay dirt with this post-apocalyptic zombie yarn. The debut feature by former title card designer Henry Hobson casts Schwarzenegger as world-weary, Midwestern crop farmer Wade Vogel, whose titular daughter has been infected by the deadly 'necroambulist' virus.
The disease has ravaged the country, though society has managed to remain basically functional, and the authorities allow Wade to take Maggie home to live out her six weeks. "She's probably going to show more signs of aggression and hunger," warns a grim-faced doctor. "When that happens, say your goodbyes and get her straight to quarantine."
Back home, Wade and his wife Caroline (Joely Richardson) - Maggie's stepmother - must confront the terrible moral quandary of whether they can cure or save their child, or if Wade will have to kill her.
With Schwarzenegger on board, you might expect Maggie to deliver explosion after fist-fight, but aside from the odd moment of admittedly sickening violence, it is as restrained and artful as zombie pictures get. It's also among the bleakest since George A Romero's original Night of the Living Dead.
Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin becomes Little Miss Pitch Blackness for her role as the teenage girl who may have to be, ahem, terminated by her father before she joins the ranks of the undead.
John Scott III's screenplay can be taken as a dark drama or as an allegory for childhood's end, the loss of innocence and the relationship between man and daughter.
Since finding new favour with Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake in the 2000s, zombie movies have become as tired and tedious as vampire, alien and slasher films did in previous decades, but Maggie helps reanimate the shuffling sub-genre.
As for Schwarzenegger, this is his Cop Land, albeit coming two decades after Sylvester Stallone's attempt to re-establish himself as a serious actor. The 'Austrian Oak' gives a solid performance, helped by the sparse script, a steady pace and some gritty visuals. Hobson coaxes the best out of his leading man, and Schwarzenegger and Breslin have undeniable chemistry.
The ageing action star may never win an Oscar, but even at this late stage (he turns 68 next week) it's nice to see him flexing his acting muscles, rather than what's left of his physical ones.