The Movie Waffler New to VOD - M3GAN | The Movie Waffler

New to VOD - M3GAN

New to VOD - M3GAN
A lifelike robot doll turns deadly.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Gerard Johnstone

Starring: Alison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Lori Dungey, Stephane Garneau-Monten

M3GAN poster

M3GAN is the latest high tech evolution of a type of movie that has its roots in the 1956 thriller The Bad Seed, in which Patty McCormack played an innocent looking, pigtailed kid with homicidal tendencies. Drawing on the novelty of a diminutive killer, we saw several imitations, but we also got a spin-off sub-genre beginning with the 1963 Living Doll episode of The Twilight Zone in which the miniature menaces weren't human but rather toys or robots. The apex of this is of course 1988's Child's Play, which unleashed the iconic Chucky onto the world and gave us imitations like 1991's Dolly Dearest, the movie M3GAN arguably shares the most DNA with.

The appeal of Child's Play and Dolly Dearest is in seeing children's toys inhabited through supernatural means by psychotic killers, spewing foul-mouthed tirades as they use their wits to take down humans five times their height. The recent reboot of Child's Play missed this point by making Chucky a defective robotic toy, erasing everything that made the character so much fun in the first place.

If you're worried M3GAN might be as dry as that ill-advised remake, you needn't worry. While it may feature a villain that's 100% artificial intelligence, director Gerard Johnstone and screenwriter Akela Cooper exploit their villain's very inhumanity for both scares and laughs.

M3GAN review

Gemma (Alison Williams) is a robotics genius slumming it by working for a toy company that produces uninspired product lines. Unbeknownst to her boss she's been secretly working on a prototype - Model 3 Generative Android, or M3GAN for short. M3GAN is a lifelike doll designed to "pair" with a child and adapt to their specific needs to become a sort of substitute best friend/sister. When Gemma finds herself lumbered with guardianship of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw), whose parents were killed in a freak accident, she struggles to bond with the kid. That is until Cady stumbles across a robot Gemma made back in college. Seeing how fascinated Cady is with her earlier creation, Gemma decides to press on and finish work on M3GAN, essentially using Cady as a test subject.

M3GAN is an instant hit with the kid, who becomes attached to the android. The feeling is mutual, but the trouble is M3GAN grows a little too over-protective of Cady and begins dispatching anything or anyone she views as a threat to the child. Seems Gemma forgot to programme M3GAN with Asimov's three laws of robotics, or at least the all-important first law which states "A robot may not injure a human being."

M3GAN review

If you've seen any variation of the Bad Seed theme you'll be familiar with the plot beats of this latest update. We know the neighbour's dog is going to get it at some point. We know the snot-nosed bullying kid will get their comeuppance. We know M3GAN will be forced to turn on the closest thing she has to a mother. But with movies like this the fun is in the familiarity, and there's a cosy satisfaction in seeing how the movie updates decades old tropes. The movie is commendably nasty, refusing to let children and animals off the hook when it comes to potential victims of M3GAN's ire, but it's all played with its tongue firmly in its cheek so it never feels mean spirited. The death of a kid can often come off as crassly exploitative, but it can also be hilarious, as is the case with one particular denouement here.

The thrillers that have come from the Blumhouse stable usually stumble when they attempt social satire with a straight face (think of the awful Purge series, the embarrassingly bad Black Christmas remake and whatever Run Sweetheart Run was), but their best movies are those that employ satire (Happy Death Day, Freaky). M3GAN is an addition to the latter camp, opening with a Robocop-esque commercial for a children's toy that establishes the tone of the film – i.e. a heightened version of our current world. Combining horror, comedy and sci-fi, M3GAN satirises the state of parenting in the age of tablets and smartphones. M3GAN the android comes with an Off switch, and a lot of parents probably wish their kids were similarly equipped. Toys were traditionally made for children to play together or with their parents, but today's toys (if tablets and phones can even be called "toys") essentially serve as substitute Off switches, with parents sticking a device in their kid's hands whenever they want a few hours to themselves. Gemma employs her robot creation in similar fashion, and it's only when she realises that she's allowed a piece of technology to take over the duties of a parent that she fully grasps the horror of what she's unleashed.

M3GAN review

Other recent similar movies have failed to create an iconic villain (Annabelle is a non-starter because it asks us to fear an inanimate object), but M3GAN instantly captured the imagination as soon as the first trailer appeared. The filmmakers say her look was modeled on Grace Kelly and Kim Novak, but she bears more than a passing resemblance to Charlize Theron. The similarly themed recent seasonal slasher Christmas Bloody Christmas never managed to convince us its android antagonist was anything more than a man in a costume, but M3GAN will have you wondering if some dazzling combination of robotics, puppetry and a human performer has been employed to pull off a convincing effect.

Johnstone mines a lot of unsettling menace from M3GAN's dead-eyed stare, but what's creepiest about the creation is the way it absorbs information, clawing its way a little further up the side of the uncanny valley with each new nugget of knowledge it acquires. The more human M3GAN becomes, the more of a threat she poses. M3GAN is a living, four foot tall embodiment of those very modern threats like keystroke readers, hacked webcams etc, which are designed to figure out who we are and use that information against us. A closing shot may have viewers reassessing just what sort of intrusive technology they allow into their homes.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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