Review written by Anthony Tyson on May 27th, 2015
I heard about this movie about a year back, and shortly thereafter, the trailer. I was sold on the idea, a daughter is bitten by infected humans and one dad has to try and take care of her as she slowly begins to slip into madness. It’s a zombie film, but its more about the Father/Daughter relationship and one man trying to make a final decision: do I end my daughters struggle, or do I try and stay with her and give her all the time I can before the end? It’s a classic and somewhat difficult trope, so I knew it would take pretty good actors to pull off. Abigail Breslin as the daughter ‘Maggie’ was an excellent choice, so no worries there I thought. After that came the reveal Arnold Schwarzenegger, our favorite 80’s one liner action hero star, was going to play a dramatic role as the father Wade. I was very confused with this choice, as Arnold has never really had a dramatic role before. Could he ruin this movie with lines delivered with that cheesy charm that only belongs in straight up action movies? Well, my doubts were definitely misplaced, as I can say that Arnold was definitely not part of any problems with the movie.
To start, the story is pretty damn engaging. As I mentioned before, the plot is largely by the numbers at first. Daughter gets bit, Dad wants to save her and hide her away, zombies almost wiping out humanity; really basic. The success of the film however, resides in that it blends both the zombie plot and the debilitating disease plot, effortlessly. It really captures what it’s like for a father to go through a disease like this, and still try and appear strong for the child he cares about. 'Maggie' goes through stages of dealing with the disease as well, and you can see her body and mind start to fail. I will avoid spoilers, but the story takes a few turns now and again; keeping the audience engaged until the surprising and melancholy end.
The tone of the film is about what you would expect out of a film set after a zombie outbreak. While never actually calling the infected ‘zombies’, it follows that typical idea of what the world would look like after an outbreak. Overcrowded hospitals, crops burnt, large city areas quarantined; set after humanity has had a moment to breathe. While not out of the clear by any means, quarantines have been locked down, families have returned to homes in some rural areas, and schools are almost ready to open. It’s great world building, as its set at the ideal moment to establish the relationship between ‘Maggie’ and the father ‘Wade’. The outbreak is merely a pretext, not a crux, for the story.
On the topic of characters, all are very interesting: save for one. ‘Maggie’ is a spirited girl, but prone to quick outbursts. ‘Wade’ is reserved, but will stop at nothing to protect his family; even if it means disobeying the law. A surprise character, ‘Trent’, is also incredibly fascinating. He provides a lot of insight into the current world, as he is an infected human himself. For a period of a few days to a week, those bit by infected humans are allowed to say their goodbyes before they are sent to quarantine zones. ‘Trent’ claims that these quarantine zones can be harsh, and it he helps explain why certain people want to hide their loved ones away from authorities. ‘Wade’ is between deciding if this is the right course of action, or not, for ‘Maggie’. The movie introduces many morality plays to ‘Wade’, and Schwarzenegger is incredibly moving in these moments. Hell, if it wasn't for the accent, I wouldn’t think it’s the same man as the one we all know from our favorite action movies.
The one exception I mentioned earlier is Wade’s wife, or if you prefer, Maggie’s stepmom. She is an insanely irritating character on screen, showing only two different shades of nagging wife and nagging Mom. She is unneeded in the film; as any ‘moral dilemma’ introduced on screen, is by outside parties throughout the film. All she does is pointlessly recap everything going on. To make matters worse, her character starts out with a southern drawl accent in the film, and then mysteriously loses it after the first half. It makes no damn sense at all to me.
While the stepmom is annoying, she is little more than a nuisance and doesn't detract from the movie at large. 'Wade' and 'Maggie' are extremely empathetic, and Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger are incredible in their performances as the two characters. I feel as if, after seeing this movie, I have seen and done is all. I can now say something I never thought I would be able to say with a straight face. Are you ready???
Schwarzenegger can be a dramatic actor.
It’s something that can’t quite be believed until you watch this movie. While it’s not my favorite film of the year, it’s pretty freaking good. I just hope that the awful trailers for the next Terminator film don’t detract from what might just be Schwarzenegger’s best performance of his career.
Worth a watch if you are curious in the unlikely, a film fan, a zombie fan, or if you like Abigail Breslin- she is astounding.