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'Maggie' puts a timely twist on the classic zombie narrative
Joely Richardson, Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie. - photo by Josh Terry
In 2002, 28 Days Later helped jumpstart the modern zombie craze by making a single change to the genres traditional narrative. Slow, lumbering zombies were out and super fast zombies were in.

Thirteen years later, Maggie tinkers with another aspect of the standard formula: the incubation period.

The film is built around the relationship between a father and daughter. Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a Midwestern country boy with an unexplained Austrian accent. His teenage daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), has been infected with a slow-acting virus that is turning the population into cloudy-eyed cannibals.

Maggie has eight weeks to spend with Wade and her stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson) on the family farm while her condition worsens. Eventually, Wade will have to choose from three options: He can check Maggie into a government-mandated quarantine where strangers will administer a painful drug to put her out of her misery; he can administer the quarantine drug himself, allowing her to expire among family and friends; and his final option, as Maggies doctor puts it, would be to make it quick.

Whether were talking dead-rising-from-the-grave zombies or infected human zombies, one thing that has remained consistent is the turnaround time. Seconds after death or infection, the victim turns deadly and fast.

By extending the incubation period, Maggie eschews fast-paced terror for a ponderous, growing sense of dread. The film puts the whole zombie concept in such a realistic perspective that the process feels more like watching someone succumb to cancer or dementia.

Its a strange twist on a familiar genre, best suited for audiences who have seen their fair share of zombie movies.

(To anyone who is still wondering what the attraction is for movies about swarms of brain-lusting undead ghouls, Maggie is only going to confuse the situation.)

Then again, zombie fans who have grown accustomed to the over-the-top blood and guts of George Romeros horror flicks or TVs The Walking Dead could be disappointed by Maggies relatively bloodless tale. The film has its moments of tension and fright, but zombie extras in mind-blowing horror makeup arent exactly waiting around every dark corner.

The tone is more bleak and deliberate than even the most serious zombie films. This pacing might be too slow and brooding for some, but the rewards include some haunting imagery. Since the culprit dubbed the Necroambulist Virus is connected to the food supply, Maggie features bleak visual landscapes of burning midwestern plains, as farmers try to stop the spread of the virus.

Its fun to see Maggies cast at work here. The notion of sticking Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie feels most appropriate for camp, such as the frozen Nazi zombie Dead Snow series. But the ex-governor puts on one of his most restrained and mature performances to date.

Breslins presence anchors the polar opposite end of the spectrum from her appearance in 2009s comic classic Zombieland.

Typically, zombie films use the hordes of the undead as a stand-in metaphor for some kind of greater social commentary, like Dawn of the Deads critique of gross consumerism. But by grounding its tale in a more vivid reality, Maggie suggests an undiluted perspective on issues like euthanasia.

Zombie movies have come a long way.

Maggie probably wont make anyones list of all-time zombie classics, but it helps to diversify what can be a redundant genre. Its an interesting change of pace for its cast and a fun if bleak offering for zombie fans.

Maggie is rated PG-13 for scenes of gore and violence, as well as some profanity.