Saturday, October 8, 2016


"I listened to the words he'd say
But in his voice I heard decay"

NIN - The Day the World Went Away

As I mentioned in my last post, zombies are old news. We've seen the shamblers and the runners and the pukers, all grabbing and biting and growling and spewing. You can try to freshen up such decomposing tropes in an artistic way, as 28 Days Later did with the bleakness of a post-apocalyptic world. You can sexualize it as Return of the Living Dead 3 did with that unfairly fascinating s&m zombie chick. You can dilute it in generic action sequences as Resident Evil: Afterlife did, though in that case why are you even reaching for zombie material in the first place?

Or... go back to the basics. Individual humans going feral, biting other individual humans. Recapture the low-key primordial fear of infection, of the disease beneath your skin and the stench of rot from which our fruit-fed primate brains reel in terror and disgust, the slow grinding purulence of the inevitable. The panic of being forced to transgress one of our gravest taboos, cannibalism. The intrinsic fear of losing one's mind, the self.

Meet Maggie.
No, not the bearded guy, the chick behind him.
Maggie's a zombie. Well... not yet. Maggie's turning into a zombie. Her father Herr Governator wants to protect her from all the people scared of zombies and thankfully for once the story's about the journey and not the destination. As much as I liked 28 Days Later or World War Z, I dislike the instantaneous zombification in newer zombie movies. The turning is a worthy sub-plot in itself, an opportunity for intrigue, suspense and pathos too casually discarded in favor of clearing more screen time for slo-mo gunfire.

Maggie's plot creeps slowly enough along, but never stalls. It deserved more appreciation than it got from either critics or the mass market if for nothing else at least for the whiplash value of seeing Little Miss Sunshine in such a bleak role. Schwarzenegger's kind of a toss-up. The simple knowledge of his on-screen persona sets him up to strap on half a ton of military hardware and go Commando through the town as far as viewers' expectations are concerned, and might have led to much of the perceived let-down. Ironically though, his playing such a restrained, even passive character works well within the context of a story about not only what can be done but what should be done. It leaves room for decision, for characters' personal choices. The whole thing achieves a Bradbury-style juxtaposition of small town quaintness and horror tropes, more visceral and gripping in its narrower scope than high-kicking heroics would allow for, playing on social mores instead.

Zombie interest stories. Let's make that a sub-genre. Or would that be a sub-sub or sub-sub-sub-genre by this point? Halloween's coming up. Add Maggie to your list.

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