M3GAN (2022) takes the classic “Killer Doll” premise and adds its own unique twist. The most well-known example of this horror subgenre would be the Child’s Play (1988) series, featuring everyone’s favorite toy murderer, Chucky. Here, director Gerard Johnstone and screenwriter Akela Cooper put a new spin on familiar material, incorporating technological advancements that aren’t that far off from the real world. In a time where cell phones are everywhere, and Artificial Intelligence can provide driving directions or paint full scale murals, our reliance on technology is greater than ever. But what if the tools meant to make our lives more convenient turn on us? What happens when the creation turns against its creator?
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, as the notion of “Man vs. Machine” has been explored in everything from The Terminator (1984) to The Matrix (1999). However, Johnstone, Cooper, and the rest of the production succeed at making this a straight up riot. Regardless of its shortcomings, M3GAN is a blast to watch – a goofy but effective horror flick that isn’t afraid to lean into its ridiculous nature. This is the kind of movie where a robot will break into a song and dance number for no reason other than it can. The execution is hilariously bizarre. If anything, we are left wishing that it pushed things a little further. It’s PG-13 rating is surely meant to appeal to a wider demographic, but I wondered what gruesome avenues were left unexplored. Cooper was also the screenwriter for Malignant (2021), a film that benefitted from its R-rating. Could this have also profited the same way? Who knows.
The design of M3GAN (an acronym for “Model 3 Generative Android”) was a stroke of brilliance. Instead of having the life-sized doll be made completely artificial, the production combined synthetic elements over a human performance. Amie Donald acts as the “body” of M3GAN, while Jenna Davis supplies the voice. However, M3GAN’s head and face – with her large eyes and blank stare – clearly does not resemble any kind of real human characteristics. The result is an “Uncanny Valley” effect taken to an extreme. At first glance, M3GAN looks like an everyday, regular person (I couldn’t help noticing the similarities to Elizabeth Olsen). Upon closer inspection, her lack of natural expressions makes her presence off putting. That feeling gets worse once she enters “attack mode,” twisting her body around like a contortionist.
For anyone with a lick of common sense, having a toy like M3GAN – who can talk, think, and act all on her own – seems like a bad idea. That’s where our sense of disbelief must take the night off. The narrative introduces her as a robotic assistant, the creation of engineer Gemma (Allison Williams). Gemma wants to create an invention that will leave her mark on the world. When her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) enters her life after a tragic accident, Gemma uses M3GAN to give Cady a friend to talk to. However, technology can never be a replacement for genuine human interaction, and the push/pull Gemma has between completing her work and being available for Cady acts as an emotional point of tension. Things get complicated once M3GAN – unsurprisingly – starts taking matters into her own hands.
In terms of the horror, M3GAN is not really that scary. Outside of a few minor instances, the blood and gore are kept to a minimum. For those coming in expecting to be frightened, they will walk out disappointed. The scare and kill scenes are kept mostly off screen, hidden by the camera frame or by a well-timed cut. In fact, it can be argued that this is more of a comedy that just happens to belong in the horror genre. Johnstone’s direction relies just as heavily on the laughs as it does the scares. The comedic bits involve characters’ reactions to M3GAN being nearby. Sometimes they are unnerved by the way she looks, other times they’re startled by her sudden appearance out of nowhere. Who can blame them? She’s creepy! You know those paintings of people whose eyes kind of follow you no matter where you stand from it? M3GAN gives off the same kind of vibes.
I was less invested in the story between Gemma and Cady. There is something tangible about their relationship – parents often face the challenge of letting their kids play with phones and tablets as opposed to going outside. In that regard, the writing and direction touch on something substantial. But that theme is only lightly covered. Gemma and Cady never truly draw us in. As much as Allison Williams and Violet McGraw try to conjure something authentic, it always felt like they were playing pretend rather than existing as real characters. Their dynamic takes another hit once the chaos ensues. I’m willing to bet audiences will remember M3GAN, her hijinks, and her dance moves more than the relationship between the protagonists.
Even still, I had a lot of fun with M3GAN. It sets up its premise immediately, leaving it to the viewer to tag along. You’re either going to dig what this has to offer or not, there isn’t much wiggle room in between. Is it a great horror film? That depends on your expectations. Are you looking for something that will make your skin crawl or send shivers down your spine? Then this might not be for you. If you’re looking to have a good time and share a few laughs, then this might be right up your alley.
The post Film Review – M3GAN written by Allen Almachar appeared first on The MacGuffin: Film and TV Reviews, Interviews, Analysis.