Synopsis – A robotics engineer at a toy company builds a life-like doll that begins to take on a life of its own.
My Take – Dolls are creepy. A fact that has been taken advantage of by many filmmakers over the years. Who have successfully gone up to present the seemingly innocent toys as a facade for something much more sinister and deadly. And with the The Child’s Play franchise and Annabelle films being widely accepted among moviegoers, irrespective of their critical lashings, the demand continues to remain at an all-time high, despite increasing difficulty in setting them apart from each other, at least in terms of presentation.
This latest flick sees prolific filmmaker James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) reunite with his Malignant (2021) writer Akela Cooper to introduce yet another murderous doll into the mix with Housebound (2014) director Gerard Johnstone at the helm. And though the setup is eerily familiar to the 2019 remake of Child’s Play, thankfully, it also very much has its own unique flare to win over.
Slickly produced, dark, comical, and highly amusing, the little horror flick mainly delivers on its core promise that is to simply entertain. Working more as a thrilling black comedy than a frightening horror, the film is an absolute laugh riot that finds the right balance between humors and thrills.
Yes, it could have pushed its limits even further, as its characters and restrained PG13 horror prevents it from reaching the highs of terror and dread, but in the end, the film succeeds at being a campy and self-aware parody of the killer doll horror sub-genre, just like it’s viral marketing campaign suggested, all the while successfully establishing a new slasher villain for the studio to milk for the next few years.
The story follows Gemma (Allison Williams), a workaholic robotics engineer employed at a top-tier toy company named Funki, where she is under constant pressure from the company’s CEO David (Ronny Chieng) to find a way to make their highest-selling product cheaper to manufacture and sell. However, her life takes a massive swing when Gemma finds herself handed the responsibility of being a guardian to her niece Cady (Violet McGraw), who tragically lost her parents in a vicious car accident that left her as the sole survivor.
Struggling to settle into this new set up, Gemma ends up enlisting Cady as her newest invention’s beta tester. Introducing her to Model 3 Generative Android aka M3GAN (voiced by Jenna Davis and performed by Amie Donald), a highly advanced doll-like android with whom Cady instantly forms an inseparable bond becoming an all-in-one best friend, protector, and teacher with advanced learning capabilities. Naturally, the doll becomes a threat both in a psychological and a physical sense.
Right from the opening scene, writer Cooper’s screenplay immediately sets the tone of the film with an over-the-top toy commercial aimed to entice children that inevitably annoys the living daylights out of parents.
The film strives to be a cautionary tale about the current century’s obsession with technology and shows an alternative future where advances in technology could indeed lead to this kind of A.I. toy, which contrary to its main purpose, would seek to break away from the grip of its human creator and become independent. The more M3GAN’s devious gazes and sarcastic threats emerge, the more director Johnstone relishes the concept’s apocalyptic implications when A.I. turns against its makers.
Seen through the eyes of a career woman thrust into motherhood not by choice, but fate, the film aspires to also be an adoption drama where a new mother and a stubborn young ling butt heads over their heartbreaking lifestyle shake-ups. Here, director Johnstone touches on Gemma’s tragic negligence of Cady thanks to M3GAN’s programmed services beyond companionship, subtly scolded by Gemma’s coworker Tess (Jen Van Epps) about her actual role in a world where iPads are parenting children.
Nevertheless, the film main hook is its dark humor that took over the Internet, launching the film into a meme that went viral. She’s the doll that sings, dances, and slays in more ways than one. Sia’s “Titanium” is one of a couple of songs sure to once again enter popular culture. It all adds up to something disturbing and unsettling, but remains thoroughly hilarious.
Sure, to deliver in the horror department, it has those typical jump scares, but the truly creepy thing about this film is the execution of M3GAN herself. Seemingly done 100% practically, the creepy doll is a mix of live acting and a robotic puppet mask. With the doll being practical, it adds to the creepiness of her coming to life on screen and is really fun to watch.
Needless to say, the film does run into some strange narrative problems. As the lead characters take radical and unearned shifts at some point in the story. They each represent necessary story beats which just come out of nowhere. It’s strange that a script that roots itself in the difficult relationship between Cady and Gemma would have their emotional breakthrough moments happen with so little build. This one needed to be a leaner and meaner film not only from a slasher standpoint, but from a dramatic standpoint as well to hit hard.
Performance wise, Allison Williams continues to be a stand out in the horror genre, getting only better with each film. Violet McGraw does a fine job as Cady, delivering the emotion and distress that comes with the loss of her parents. Ronny Chieng as David is hilarious and nails the campy dialogue given to him. The voice/body double act of Jenna Davis and Amie Donald manages to be a pleasingly creepy concoction. In supporting turns, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Lori Dungey and Stephane Garneau-Monten manage to be effective. On the whole, ‘M3GAN’ is an entertaining campy horror flick that delivers the creeps and laughs.
Directed – Gerard Johnstone
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 102 minutes