Review: Don’t mistaken “M3GAN” as another “Child’s Play.” Yes, it does have a similar narrative pattern and killer doll, but aspects of “M3GAN” beyond that separate it from an idea done numerous times in Hollywood before. James Wan and Gerard Johnstone team up for a relatively fun start to the new year.
It’s about damn time we get a new movie to start 2023! Although the synopsis and trailers had me worried about Gerard Johnstone’s sophomore directorial work “M3GAN,” I couldn’t wait to finally get back in the theaters after a long holiday break to witness horror’s newest killer doll slasher. Influenced heavily by both the “Child’s Play” and “Malignant” films of the world, James Wan’s newest production and script blends just enough from its contemporaries while still feeling wholistically original.
And while it isn’t without a few flaws in its narrative and character development, “M3GAN” feels timely and genuine in its themes of overreliance on technology. From the start, the movie is extremely winking in its delivery, beginning with a faux-commercial for the newest furry doll with every tech gadget available – even the ability to pair with a mobile device to make your friend come to life.
But when young girl Cady loses both of her parents unexpectedly in a car accident during a treacherous snowstorm, a furry friend isn’t going to help her grieve. So toy engineer and aunt-turned-guardian Gemma constructs a new Model 3 Generative Android, codenamed M3GAN, to be her niece’s best friend moving forward. As you can expect, things turn for the worst and the doll begins to wreak havoc on those closest to the family. Blood spills and Gemma and Cady seem like the only two that are capable of shutting M3GAN down once and for all.
I’ve said in past reviews that I don’t feel satire works nowadays like it used to. Although it can still effectively point out fallacies in our culture, the world we live in today is too wacky on its own for satire to be as effective. Perhaps this is partially what has helped the rise in “elevated horror” – horror with an emphasis on message and thematic weight in contrast to high body counts and bloody kills.
“M3GAN” combines these two “versions” of horror and creates a satirical take on our tech industry that feels pretty refreshing. It’s not quite a full-on satire, but I thought quite heavily during my screening about the state of self-reflexive filmmaking in a world that feels so divided and constantly in turmoil, and I think this is an example of a form of filmmaking that can still work despite living in a fully modernized and self-realized country.
Allison Williams turns in a carefully constructed performance of an aunt thrust into parenthood overnight. Hopefully she’s going to continue to get more roles in this vein and genre because between “Get Out,” “The Perfection,” and “M3GAN,” she’s proven she’s capable of working in volatile characters and leading roles in studio productions. She’s the highlight of a film that could certainly fall apart if the wrong actress is chosen for the lead.
With that being said, I wish Williams was offered more to work with within the script because her character, like many in “M3GAN,” is generally one-noted and flat. If there’s one major criticism I could give for the movie’s shortcomings, it’s that the dialogue and character development fall short from the other elements that make “M3GAN” fun. Instead of feeling like one of the year’s signature horror releases, the movie begins to feel like an underbaked Shudder release that gets swept under the rug in a few weeks’ time.
But as an early year romp? I still had a relatively fun time. Normal January release schedules can be rough, so to see a horror entry be genuinely interesting and infused with a handful of fun gimmicks is a bit out of the ordinary. It doesn’t redefine the genre or push it into new territory, but it uses its predecessors to establish a modern take on the classics.
Director Gerard Johnstone takes quite a step up from his debut “Housebound,” which I felt played a bit too much like a filmmaker that had watched “Hot Fuzz” one too many times and wanted to edit exactly like Edgar Wright’s best films. “M3GAN” is a step towards a director developing his own blend of meta commentary, distinct visual style, and thematic interests. “M3GAN” teeters just on the brink of being too self-knowing without jumping over the edge.
Its action sequences rip and when M3GAN goes full creature mode, the film hits its highest peaks and is easily at its most enjoyable. As much as it does riff on “Child’s Play” and its numerous copycats, “M3GAN” also works as a delightfully deranged monster flick – a genius dual interpretation that makes for wonderful gags that work almost unilaterally (especially that dancing scene).
The voice acting of M3GAN done by Jenna Davis is brilliantly mixed between animatronic and lifelike cadence, and supporting performances by Violet McGraw and Ronny Chieng do enough to hold the film together, even if they don’t help elevate the film much in their own right. Perhaps that may be partially due to my innate disinterest in child acting given that most of the time they feel like they are in completely different movies – especially when it comes to horror.
Despite these few critiques, I can certainly recommend “M3GAN” to anyone morbidly curious as to what this doll slasher entails. I was dubious, but quickly won over by the charm and heart that’s heavy handed from the very beginning. For being PG-13, the kills are fun and inventive, but I argue the film has enough thematic purpose to be built well beyond those kills. Making it “R” rated may have made it a better thrill ride, but not necessarily a better film; that film being a competent genre exercise worth the price of admission. See it! Who am I kidding, it’s not like much else is releasing in theaters anytime soon anyways.