Review: M3GAN

Haunted doll movie is self-aware, and in more ways than one!

A roboticist becomes the legal guardian of her niece at the same time she breaks new ground in robot technology: M3GAN. A robot designed to be part of the family…

While Insidious and The Conjuring director James Wan has his name on it, he is only a producer/writer for M3GAN. Directing duties fall to relative newcomer Gerard Johnstone. Certainly, Wan and Blumhouse Productions give the film the polish you would expect, it should be appreciated for what it is: a solid movie all around.

Starring Allison Williams and Violet McGraw, the horror movie is delightfully small in scale and surprisingly akin to the likes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series. While it does have the classic hallmarks of any haunted doll movie, it is also a great science fiction, cyberpunk movie, addressing the thin line between human interaction and how we may react to artificial life.

It is also very silly, and very aware of how silly it is.

There is something of a hurdle when dealing with haunted doll movies. The monster is often less than a metre tall, how can the human characters be bested so easily? How can they be so terrified and not appreciate the lunacy of the situation for even a moment? Even The X-Files had a possessed doll episode that felt extremely mediocre.
So going into M3GAN was, politely, a sceptical affair at first.

They became fast friends. As in… one chases and the other runs.

But then the film opens with an extremely satirical toy advert for Furby-like toys, and how our lead child, Cady (played by Violet McGraw) is helplessly addicted to this “intelligent” toy. Okay, so this film knows how to enjoy itself. Good.
Then her parents are killed in an automobile accident.

Introduce Gemma, (Allison Williams) Cody’s aunt, who becomes her guardian. Gemma is single, married to her work, and has no understanding of children whatsoever, let alone how to deal with emotional trauma. She would much rather perfect her frankly jaw-dropping invention, M3GAN. Gemma opts to have M3GAN be Cody’s friend, to deal with the fallout of losing both her parents, much to the dismay of virtually every other human being Gemma has contact with.

The first two acts of this film is ridiculously good at racking up the tension. Much like Black Mirror, the film gets us invested in our characters, and sets up great ideas for later down the line. Gemma… is an awful human being. For the protagonist of the film, the audience is given so many “facepalm” moments as she (despite her clear brilliance) fails to see fundamental problems before they happen. From emotional ones, to technical ones. “Your robot is clearly lying to you. Are you not concerned??” being one of my favourite thoughts while watching.

One of these things is not like the other things.

But this isn’t an annoyance; in fact it is a joy to watch. Allison Williams does a great job in the role, displaying the neurosis of a shut-in nerd impeccably. There’s an almost Verhoeven quality to the movie: when Allison creates what is essentially perfect AI for a toy company without realizing how dangerous that is. Or even putting in the most basic of logic fail-safes. From… oh, to name just a couple: murder and the ability to take over other electrical devices wirelessly? Even down to the film’s subtext that children are being raised by devices rather than parents these days.

But like a lot of horror, it does fall into tropes quite easily, and depending on how voracious your appetite is for the genre, you might find some of the moments too familiar. The third act is ridiculous; there is a definite gear shift as M3GAN exhibits far more power and control than anyone could have imagined. The slasher horror moments almost feel… obligatory.

But ultimately, M3GAN was surprisingly good. Viewing improves dramatically once you realize how tongue-in-cheek it is being most of the time. Otherwise, there is a steady cyberpunk influence to proceedings that very much elevates it over the classic possessed doll trope.

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