M3gan review

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Cast : Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronnie Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Stephane Garneau-Monten
Genre: Horror/Sci-fi
Run Time : 102 min
Opens : 4 January 2022
Rating : PG13

What are three things with immense potential for creepiness? Dolls, kids and technology. M3gan might not be the first film to fuse the three, but it might be the first to fuse the three and go viral for a dance its titular character does while in the middle of a killing spree, and that’s worth something.

Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant roboticist, works for the toy company Funki. Funki manufactures the Furby-like Purpetual Pets, but Gemma and her team are developing a secret project: a hyper-realistic robotic doll named the Model 3 Generative Android (Amie Donald, Jenna Davis), or M3gan for short. When Gemma’s sister Ava (Kira Josephson) and her brother-in-law Ryan (Arlo Green) die in a car accident, Gemma becomes the guardian of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Gemma introduces M3gan, still in the prototype stage, to Cady, and they soon bond. However, M3gan becomes unpredictable, displaying sinister tendencies. With Gemma’s boss David (Ronnie Chieng) about to unveil M3gan to the world, Gemma realises she might have created a monster.

M3gan is supremely entertaining. From its first moments, the movie demonstrates that it knows what it is. Director Gerard Johnstone, working from a screenplay by Akela Cooper, has a handle on the tone at all times. M3gan sees producers Jason Blum and James Wan, both veterans of the horror genre, putting together a crowd-pleaser and a half. Wan also gets a “story by” credit. M3gan’s trailer prompted some to fear it might be unintentionally funny in the way some horror movies are, but when M3gan is funny, it’s intentional. When M3gan is unsettling, it’s intentional too. And M3gan even succeeds at being genuinely emotional at times. The audience at this reviewer’s screening lapped it all up, laughing and screaming unreservedly. The movie’s PG13 rating means it isn’t aiming for outright gory terror, but it does manage to be effectively unnerving at times. The rest of the time, it’s a roller coaster in the best way. The movie has such an anarchic sense of fun to it and it never lets up, even in its quieter moments.

Crucially, both Allison Williams and Violet McGraw are playing it completely straight, and they give genuinely affecting performances. Williams is convincing as a career-driven woman who is not necessarily cut out to be a guardian, and as such hands the parenting off to a third party. Meanwhile, McGraw feels like an actual kid and not a precocious movie kid, and the moments of conflict between Gemma and Cady, some engineered by M3gan, are uncomfortable to watch. Ronnie Chieng is also a hoot as Gemma’s boss, an arrogant tech bro. The movie’s observations about the dangers of becoming overly reliant on technology, and the false promises and hype of the tech industry, are not especially new, but they work in the context of the story.

M3gan is very formulaic and owes a lot to everything from Child’s Play to Annabelle to the Terminator series. It wears all its influences on its sleeve. There may not be enough here that’s truly original, and horror aficionados looking for something genuinely scary will likely not find it here, but it’s very good at being the thing it’s trying to be: an entertaining time.

Key to M3gan working is its titular character, who became an internet sensation from the moment the first trailer dropped. The character is realised by way of a physical performance by dancer/stunt performer Amie Donald (who was just 11 at the time of filming), the voice of Jenna Davis, and animatronic effects by Wētā Workshop. This comes together to create a character who’s funny, scary and always watchable. Donald’s physicality is impressive, selling M3gan’s uncanny, inhuman quality. Davis’ overly chipper, children’s TV presenter-esque vocal performances effortlessly slides into something more menacing. Meanwhile, the costume design by Daniel Cruden, which Empire Magazine calls “yassified Victorian chambermaid”, adds to the characters distinctiveness. Her old-fashioned dress sense is deliberately at odds with the cutting-edge tech that comprises her.

Summary: M3gan is much more than that one clip of the character dancing in the middle of killing people in an office hallway. The movie is a finely calibrated entertainment machine. It’s funny at times and unsettling at others, and the tonal balance on display is masterful. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw give genuinely affecting performances, playing things completely straight. Meanwhile, a combination of physical performer Amie Donald, voice actress Jenna Davis and animatronic effects bring the title character to vivid life. M3gan is far from particularly original, but it is, if one will pardon the cliché, more than the sum of its parts.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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