EIFF 2015: Arnie excels in Henry Hobson's devastating, zombie-themed debut
A zombie film that trades scares for sorrow as it takes an axe to a happy home, Maggie considers the plight of the infected and their loved ones by going in close on one family's struggle. It's the pared-down, sensitively captured tale of a strong-oak father standing watch over his dying child. The casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger may heavily indicate otherwise, but this is anything but action-packed, with the directorial debut of Henry Hobson coming across like the anti World War Z.
Penned by another newbie, John Scott III, it's set in an America learning to adjust after an outbreak of the 'necroambulist' virus, a fatal infection that's being successfully contained, but for which there is not yet a cure. Those in the latter stages are quarantined before they become cannibalistic but stoic farmer Wade (Schwarzenegger) chooses to keep his teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) beside him; he's a helpless bystander to her grisly demise as black rot spreads across Maggie's deathly pale skin and her eyes cloud over. The march of the disease is slow enough to prove agonising, yet it gives them mere weeks to say goodbye.
We've seen zombie films of all shades – from satires to splatterfests to rom-zom-coms – but rarely one which lingers so mournfully on the haemorrhaging of humanity, and which prizes it highly enough to do so. Arnie is stately in his heroism and heartache, while Breslin has a nice line in quiet terror. Those looking for traditional genre frights will be largely disappointed, as this moody indie offering plays on our fears in a more subtle, sometimes chilling but perhaps insufficiently moving way, taking us down a body horror road and dealing with the much-dreaded loss of a child. It has no need for outside aggressors because, as Hobson astutely observes, a family's worst nightmare is a threat from within.
Screening on Sat 20 and Tue 23 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 24 Jul.