2023 kicks off with the Toy Story of your nightmares…
Annually, there always seems to be a horror comedy which reigns supreme. 2021 had malignant, 2022 had Scream and 2023, in its brief lifespan thus far, has already blessed us with this iteration in the form of M3GAN. The film follows Gemma (Allison Williams), a robotics expert who after adopting her orphaned niece Cady (Violet McGraw), decides to gift the young girl with a prototype of a child-like AI named M3gan (model 3 generative android for your information). In a Chucky-like fashion, the robot doll soon gets a taste for murder and things only go from bad to worse there onwards.
Though homicidal dolls have become a somewhat staple in the horror genre, M3gan, whilst not particularly groundbreaking in this respect, is still a solid film. Firstly, the practical effects which brought M3gan ‘to life’ are simply incredible. Throughout viewing, it seems ambiguous as to whether she is even real or a product of CGI. Surprisingly, the puppetry department manages to create an uncanny sense of realism through her facial expressions and meticulous movements.
In terms of M3gan as a character. She dominates with her sarcastic yet ever menacing one-liners. It’s safe to say there hasn’t been a recent horror villain with as much sass as she possesses (as well as killer dance moves). She is truly the heroine of the Tik Tok generation. That being said, some of her moments are truly horrifying to witness with particular focus on her frightening movements. One scene depicts her run devolve into an animalistic sprint onto all fours. Another sees the doll move eerily with body contortions mirroring that of the girl(s) from Ringu/The Ring. Its moments like these remind audiences that at its core, M3GAN is still a horror flick.
On the surface, M3GAN’s core narrative may appear a little predictable. The first act at times feels painfully slow but helps establish Gemma as a character and her torn priorities between her work and caring for Cady. Though Allison William does give a decent performance here, some of her interactions with her niece can feel a little wooden – especially when discussing Cady’s deceased parents. It also questionably shows a lack of her pain for their loss as after all, she too lost her sister and brother-in-law.
Once M3gan becomes a part of ‘family;, the film unsurprisingly picks up. What initially makes M3gan an interesting figure is her malice being coated with the twistedly ‘good intention’ of looking out for Cady’s well-being. In a morbid way, she is a character you perhaps initially root for as her role of a guardian angel. Though this moral ambiguity isn’t something which lasts too long let’s say, it’s interesting for the filmmakers to place it in this positioning of sympathy for such a dangerous character.
The film also says quite a bit to say through its commentary on a number of topics. The opening scene of an advertisement parody pokes fun at the current nature of consumer culture and the general low bar for products nowadays in terms of quality which nevertheless still get bought in the millions. M3gan’s presence in Gemma and Cady’s household drives away the two character’s relationship. On one hand, the film asks whether the presence of technology leads children astray from building real human connections. On the other, it asks, and particularly in Gemma’s example, whether technology is becoming a lazy substitute for parenting. These notions are what add depth to the film’s otherwise surface level concept.
I think M3gan’s strongest point however is just how damn fun it is. As the film transitions into its third act, the hilariousness is just ramped up to the max. Whilst most of these moments are shown in the multitude of trailers for the film, they still don’t lose their charm when depicted on the big screen – especially Megan’s infamous pre-murder boogie. The film’s climax plays out exactly as one could expect but doesn’t generally detach from the gratification one feels by the film’s end.
All in all, M3gan is an entertaining title with enough laughs and just enough scares to keep you engaged throughout – even after a slightly sluggish start. The practical effects are a marvel to behold and the titular doll herself is one to be cemented for a long time in the canon of great horror villains.