'Maggie' Offers a Fresh Look at the Zombie Genre

Zombies have been a staple of cinema since Victor Halperin's iconic pre-Code horror picture White Zombie was released in 1932. These undead, made famous by George Romeo's Night of the Living Dead, have been a go-to target of horror authors looking to inject their own unique flavor into the genre. They're an ideal foil for heroes brandishing shotguns as they slay them in the sake of bloody mayhem. But with an almost ninety-year history, it would be understandable if there were no new aspects to investigate. From Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies to Dawn of the Dead and Anna and the Apocalypse, zombies have infested every imaginable genre in film and then some. Zombies may seem hopeless, but even the most damaged automobiles may be revived with the skilled technician. As an example, Henry Hobson's 2015 post-apocalyptic horror thriller Maggie succeeds in making zombies fresh again.

The Vogel family's plight is the center of Maggie, rather than the gore and gorefest that is the norm in the horror genre. Maggie is more like a play than a horror film. When Maggie (Abigail Breslin) gets bitten by a zombie, the film follows her as she is taken into a terrifying quarantine facility for the remaining weeks of her life. She and her father Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) return to their house, where she intends to make the most of what time she has left. In spite of the film's occasional use of gore, Hobson is more interested in subtler moments that have a mumblecore drama-like quality. To put it another way, it's a novel take on the zombie genre, and it makes Maggie stand out from the pack of generic zombie flicks.

The location of Maggie is by far the most distinguishing feature of the novel. Maggie chooses a world that is slowly returning to normalcy rather than a future in which society has collapsed and we can enjoy all the high-octane violence we've come to adore. Public services such as the police and hospitals, the electricity system and telephone lines, and regular features of pre-zombie life (such as talking heads on television whining about the government, or adolescents slipping out of the home to go partying with their pals) are beginning to return. Not everything has gone back to normal, of course. As long as zombies are roaming the country, big cities are under strong limitations, and the death sentence of a bite still hangs large over everyone, there is a sense that things will change soon. It's even been suggested that a vaccination for the apocalypse may be developed. Zombie-infected worlds are typical tropes in this genre, but few depict them as close to becoming reality as this film does. It's a refreshing change of pace from the normal misery of this genre to hear that things may (and will) get better.

In contrast, the film's central theme is that the zombie apocalypse is coming to an end. All survivors have a shared agreement that everyone must do their bit to guarantee that normalcy may return after the previous few years of suffering. As a result, the number of people who refuse to go to a hospital for the infection after being bitten is very low. Since a bite may take up to several weeks before turning a victim, people who are unlucky enough to be infected typically prefer to delay turning themselves in for the time being while making the most of their remaining time. This is the predicament Maggie finds herself in, and the core of the film is built around her attempts to reconcile with her father while lamenting the futility of her position as a ticking clock approaches.

Hobson is able to avoid many of the faults of earlier zombie films by altering the scene from a full-fledged apocalypse to a world where the infected are treated as patients getting palliative care for a deadly ailment. Hobson, on the other hand, isn't interested in rehashing a common zombie narrative, such as someone getting bitten and then attempting to cover it up (which generally ends with them turning at the most inconvenient time). Right out of the start, everyone knows that Maggie has an illness. Bobby, Maggie's younger half-brother who understands that Maggie is ill but doesn't know why, comforts her in an early scene. It's a great sequence that could easily be adapted to a medical drama with just a few minor alterations. With their discourse about something that should only exist in dreams, like Bobby mentioning that it temporarily spread across his school like a common cold, their harmless dialogue is transformed into an extremely horrific scenario, and one that no gory-filled action sequence could duplicate.

The picture revolves on Maggie's change, and the length of time it takes just adds to the terror. While David Cronenberg's body-horror classic The Fly was known for its sluggish progression from human to zombie, this film opts for a more gradual transformation that matches that of the film. When Maggie falls off a swing and breaks one of her fingers, she bleeds a black fluid instead of blood because she is infected. In her revulsion, she severs her finger, but her difficulties only become worse when she discovers maggots in her arm. Maggie's transformation from innocent girl to cannibalistic monster is horrible to behold, and the film doesn't shy away from the specifics, resulting in a tremendous symphony for her. The film's most emotional parts are the extended interactions between Maggie and her father, in which Maggie has already accepted her destiny but Wade continues to believe that she may still win. Maggie is considerably more credible than previous zombie movies because it focuses on only two individuals as they come to terms with the dreadful predicament they find themselves in, and because the two of them address this scenario with total seriousness despite the fundamental unbelievability of it all.

Earlier characters' reactions to Maggie change as her metamorphosis progresses, demonstrating another another aspect in which the film differs from other works in the genre. In contrast to the grownups (save for her father), the younger characters are considerably more accepting and open to her presence. It isn't mentioned that there is an equal number of infected and healthy persons present at a campfire attended by Maggie and other youngsters. Instead they’re all just teens, hanging around and getting drunk and doing stuff their parents would disapprove of. As adults can recall a period when devastation wasn't a constant presence in the world, they're naturally wary of zombies, but youngsters who have no or few recollections of a pre-zombie world are less concerned. It’s an idea that would have drastic consequences for a world even after the apocalypse has ended, and while Maggie is unable to explore it in great depth due to the limited time the titular character has left, the fact it is even brought it up provokes an interesting debate that few zombie films bother to address.

The film's realistic approach extends to its action sequences, which are so underwhelming in relation to what the genre is known for that acknowledging them seems awkward. Wade is forced to use an axe to slay two zombies that break into his garden. It's hard to imagine a more unsettling sight than that of Arnold Schwarzenegger brandishing such a lethal weapon as he prepares to protect his family from the cannibalistic evil. The physical anguish he experiences while murdering them is evident, and the guilt he displays later reveals the harsh consequences of such an incident that other films typically ignore. It's not enjoyable to kill a zombie. After the deceased have been laid to rest, the pain lingers on for a long time, making it all the more unbearable since he knows that his daughter may be next. The zombies are so weak that they can't even stand a chance. Their only option is to stand there and writhe in agony, watching helplessly as Wade takes their lives in one swift motion. Although the selection of Arnold Schwarzenegger in such a tragic part may first appear unexpected, he lends a worn aspect to the character that a more conventional casting would have failed to deliver. Schwarzenegger's identity as a legendary action actor is well-known, but the Schwarzenegger we see in Maggie is far beyond retirement age, so it's understandable that he isn't performing his typical routine. Wade's visage still shows his background, allowing Hobson to concentrate on the character in the present rather than a lengthy biography. The film's outstanding performance is Abigail Breslin as Schwarzenegger's daughter, Abigail Breslin.

For as long as movies exist, zombies will continue to be one of the most popular adversaries for authors throughout the globe. A return to its former glory as an important subgenre of horror may take some time, given the genre's recent decrease in popularity compared to its early 21th-century heyday. When it happens, I hope that future films will find inspiration in more innovative ideas like Maggie rather than relying on mindless action and outdated tropes of earlier entrants. Because of its realistic tone and distinct location, it's certainly worth a second look for anyone who aren't already familiar with this genre.