Movie review: Arnold Schwarzenegger too distracting for too-earnest arthouse horror Maggie

Abigail Breslin shines in this too-earnest arthouse horror, John Scott 3's debut feature

Review Drama

MAGGIE (PG13)

95 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5

The story: Maggie Vogel (Abigail Breslin) is a 16-year-old infected with a deadly virus that re-animates victims after they die. The United States has the disease under control through tough quarantine laws, enforced by the police and military. Maggie's father, farmer Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger), refuses to give her to the authorities, hiding her at the farm with him and stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson).

This movie poses an interesting what-if: What could this work have been if it had not attracted Hollywood A-listers Schwarzenegger and Breslin into its cast?

Chances are, it would have been a fairly decent piece of arthouse horror along the lines of the Swedish work Let The Right One In (2008). Both aim for a mood of sustained anxiety rather than shocks and both reveal the interiors of its characters through dialogue, rather than with a well-swung machete.

But as it is now, with Arnie in the lead, the viewer is constantly dragged out of the world of the story by thoughts such as, "Hey, that's the Terminator", or "How are they going to explain his accent?", and also "Come on, you killed The Predator, a few zombies are nothing."

Perhaps it is unfair to typecast an actor like this, but the Austrian Oak, a man so closely identified with action, is no ordinary actor.

His portrayal of the gentle, steadfast Wade, the father who will do anything to keep his infected daughter out of the clutches of the government, is fine and solemnly understated. But his casting, a decision dictated by Hollywood economics, is distracting.

Breslin, as Maggie, also gives a solid performance, despite working with a story that lurches into young-adult territory - feeling like an odd duck in school, finding a boy who likes you despite your weirdness - because it appears to have run out of ideas.

The script, by the numerically monikered John Scott 3, is concerned with the tensions between love for family and doing the right thing by the community, and alludes to events such as the internment of Japanese- Americans in World War II or imprisonment without trial in CIA detention centres.

This is Scott 3's first feature, as well as the directorial feature debut of former graphic artist Henry Hobson. Both suffer from first-timer earnestness.

Hobson, in particular, is fond of copping the techniques of film-maker Terrence Malick (Badlands, 1973; Days Of Heaven, 1978). The camerawork is shakily impressionistic, the actors, brows furrowed, stand stoically in fields of grain in beaten denim, the actresses in wind-whipped crinoline.

In a time when the shuffling undead seem to be taking over popular culture, one alternative title for this might be Days Of Heaven, With Zombies.

johnlui@sph.com.sg