Back in the day (1999) my dad approached me about some exciting weekend plans he had made for us. Our greatest living actor (at least according to him) Arnold Schwarzenegger had a new flick and everything he had read promised a whole new side of the multi-talented star. The movie in question? Why End of Days of course. Looking back on it now it stands out to me as one of the first times Schwarzenegger looked like an old-er actor but thematically and visually it felt like everything else he had shared with us in the ’90’s – only a little bit worse. Now, 16 years later, Arnold is that much older and finally giving us something that is different than what he is known for. However, I certainly wouldn’t bet on my dad finding it very entertaining at all, mainly because it just isn’t.
Schwarzenegger plays Wade, an All-American corn-belt father of three trying to make his way through a zombie outbreak that is crossing the country. Most pressing on his mind is his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) who he is bringing home from the hospital to live out the last few weeks of her life after being infected. Wade is an atypical Schwarzenegger character as he is rendered almost completely useless in this situation. This is not World War Z and he will not be saving the world. Hell, he doesn’t even have a chance to save his daughter and that much is made clear to him and us right from the get go. There are a few zombie scuffles here and there where he gets to push the undead around but they are working off of a low budget ($4.5 million according to Wikipedia) and it shows. If you are paying your money to see Arnold understand ahead of time that you will be watching him brood and suffer and try to still be a good dad. Maggie really belongs in the Children with Terminal Illnesses subgenre along with A Walk to Remember and The Fault in Our Stars and it is not a category of film that I shy away from (try and tell me that A Walk to Remember is not a good movie!). I especially appreciated the misdirection of trying to sell tickets to bros by promising them splattered brains and God awful one-liners only to force them to get in touch with their more vulnerable side. I just take issue with the execution.
Director Henry Hobson wants to inject some of the very real sadness that would be so prevalent if this outbreak were real into the movie-going experience. It just felt as though his focus was on applying thick layers of melancholy and not on any sort of character development. He has cast big name stars, clearly, and that works as something of a shortcut but we know almost nothing about Maggie pre-bite. She has a small group of friends (all white bread) and she likes to party (in Kansas City so you know she’s serious about it) but other than that she is just some chick who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Hobson does nail the atmospherics at least and that comes through in his best scenes. The agony Maggie feels while having to perform a little self-surgery on her decaying body is made crystal clear to us through some gruesome imagery and a nice trick on the sound mixing board. Her trip to see her family doctor is heartbreaking in the way that it is undersold. It is not about some melodramatic prognosis that he lays at her feet but rather the way he tries to calm her anxieties by selling her false hope. These scenes, and a few others, drew me into the world through the reality they were presenting. Everything that surrounds those scenes, I’m sorry to say, were a little too real and lacked enough context to make me care. My dad is quick to bore for any movie that isn’t a spectacular bloodbath so he’s a bad example, but even me, who likes a more contemplative pace, was bored stiff by watching this poor girl slowly die while Arnold stands in the background stiff-upper-lipping-it for her sake. I want more movies that have this intention I just don’t want them to be this particular movie.
Director: Henry Hobson Writer(s): John Scott 3 Notable Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin