Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
Release Date: January 6th, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Gerard Johnstone Actors: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Ronny Chieng, Lori Dungey
hen nine-year-old Cady’s (Violet McGraw) parents are killed in a car accident, she is taken in by her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant programmer and engineering expert for popular toy company Funki. But the overworked and undervalued roboticist isn’t prepared to care for a child, causing the two to drift apart. Desperate to fix their relationship and also meet the demands of her overbearing boss David (Ronny Chieng), Gemma pairs her prototype Model 3 Generative Android to Cady to give her a companion and protector, while also using the monitored data to determine if the hyper-realistic A.I. doll will be ready for a commercial release. But the unexpectedly intelligent, adaptive, and always-learning M3GAN (actress Amie Donald, voice Jenna Davis) begins taking her primary objective – of keeping Cady safe – too far, indirectly and directly, causing harm to those she believes pose a threat to the young girl.
“This is what the future looks like.” It’s only natural that with increasingly more prevalent notions of artificial intelligence interfering or aiding with everyday life, movies will continue to touch upon such provocative subjects. M3GAN is essentially a modernized version of Chucky (fused with hints of “Bicentennial Man” and “Ex Machina”), but mixed with the aesthetics of Alita. Though the film is produced by James Wan (who previously dabbled with possessed puppets in “Saw,” “Dead Silence,” and “Annabelle”), the robo-dummy here isn’t aiming for a visually disturbing look; nevertheless, it’s difficult to dismiss the eerie line she treads with big-eyed cuteness and uncanny realism. If the human race is to be wiped out by planet-dominating supercomputers, perhaps it’s better that they’re four-foot dancing girls in dresses than towering metal-skeleton Terminators with laser weapons.
A genuinely thought-provoking idea of an unprepared, instant family arises, as a woman must contend with caring for a child without any experience or yearning. This is paired with the child’s guilt and loss, feelings of being unwanted, and an unnatural attachment to a mere plaything, alongside the impromptu parent facing judgment from peers and legal entities (such as a court-ordered therapist). Yet most of these concerning, emotional elements are soon discarded in favor of chills (and the introductions of an annoying neighbor and overbearing boss, both of whom are clearly meant to be deserving victims), as “M3GAN” isn’t exactly designed to delve into the complexities of realistic tragedies; even if it’s a largely unconvincing cautionary tale about corporations carelessly exploiting AI for greater profits, it’s undoubtedly chiefly focused on the boo moments and violence associated with an out-of-control, murderous cyborg.
This is, however, where the film succeeds in unanticipated entertainment value; whether or not it’s actively interested in self-mockery, the script mines humor from a wealth of otherwise straightforward, creepy scenarios. A curious blend of laughs (seemingly both intentional and unintentional) and scares help the nicely-paced picture to remain amusing, even when chuckles are summoned from the hopelessly bizarre shots of M3GAN doing a seductive dance before grabbing an ominous paper guillotine blade, when she phrases answers to have double meanings (as her forays into existential musings cloud her sense of morality), and when she spontaneously sings for her ward (a rather insightful example of a logical feature that devolves into dreadfulness). It’s not often more complex than a Terminator-like personal bodyguard engaging in revenge fantasy or outright bloody rampages, but the focus on comedy scenarios to even out the extremely predictable jumpy shots is implemented soundly.
“I won’t get freaked out.” The initial setup is a touch too much in the realm of sci-fi, struggling to sell the technological advancement, but much of that can be forgiven when supporting or background roles get to inject a line or two of sensibility, particularly as many characters fail to reasonably react when introduced to the spookily lifelike toy girl. Few people would be so calm in the face of her uncomfortable stare, though Allison Williams and Violet McGraw do a fine job interacting with it (“M3GAN’s not a person”) – helped by the obvious use of another actress as the body of the automaton (with goofily thick, rubber hand-gloves to conceal the humanness). It is, essentially, a three-person show, staged within minimal sets. Less of a stretch are the veiled criticisms of consumer culture, product marketing, and corporate greed, as demonic toy and evil child tropes crop up, presenting a substantially predictable final act. Fortunately, an impressive escalation of absurdities punctuate the climax, crafting a rather enjoyable derivation of countless prior works – from the unmentionable “Dolly Dearest” and “Dolls” to the moderately effective “Trilogy of Terror” and the long-lived series of “Puppet Master” and “Child’s Play.”
– The Massie Twins