January 27, 2023
M3GAN (2023) Review

M3GAN is thought-provoking, creepy, chilling, and hilarious, which is a hard balance to find. But Gerard Johnstone has stuck the landing to deliver something truly special here

Toys and collectibles have evolved. What was once an action figure-dominated market is now flooded with cutting-edge artificial intelligence-based technology that often blows the mind. From talking pets to lifelike dolls, the boundaries of what makes a toy is always being pushed to their limit. And now, the collaboration between Blumhouse and James Wan has tapped into this phenomenon to introduce us to M3GAN – the terrifying culmination of our quest to create lifelike toys for our children. But can these masters of horror deliver another doll-themed chiller worthy of our watchlist? Or has the genre reached the end of the assembly line?

Fear not horror fans because M3GAN is an over-the-top riot. One that offers a chilling commentary on our constant quest for toy perfection and should provoke an ethical debate about how far we should push the envelope. It’s a self-aware, tense, and surprisingly funny thriller that ticks all the boxes. And although it’s not as good as I’d hoped, the movie does more than enough to have viewers riveted to their seats…literally!

M3GAN
(from left) M3GAN, Gemma (Allison Williams) and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

A NEW GENRE

Just how long James Wan and Blumhouse can stretch out the psychopathic doll genre is a mystery. Every time the genre looks set to run out of steam the collaboration reinvents the wheel and delivers something truly fresh and engaging. And M3GAN fits into this bracket to perfection. More thriller than horror, the movie leans more into the Chucky meets The Terminator facets of the genre. And this blend has delivered a solid roadmap for future sequels to explore in greater detail.

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M3GAN in M3GAN directed by Gerard Johnstone.

THE PLOT

M3GAN stars Allison Williams as a robotics genius named Gemma. In her career working for a big toy company, she invented a series of A. I pet toys called Purrpetual Pets that went on to become a juggernaut for the industry. But soon, the toy line was quickly replicated at a fraction of the cost by competitors leaving her bosses desperate for an alternative. A next-level product that will put them back on top. And Gemma has an ace up her sleeve. Her side project is a lifelike humanoid doll bestowed with the latest A.I so advanced that Allison has yet to realize the scope of its potential.

While still ironing out the kinks, she quickly finds a test subject in her recently orphaned niece Cady. Sadly, after a tragic car wreck, both of her parents died leaving Cady in the custody of her Aunt – but before you know it, her grief is softened by the arrival of M3GAN. And pretty quickly, the doll becomes part of the family…until it becomes self-aware and takes its role as a protector and friend to lethal levels.

(from left) M3GAN and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

HORROR OR THRILLER

Now, to be clear, if you’re expecting a full-on nerve-shredding horror flick you’re in for a disappointment. M3GAN is deliberately campy, and while it boasts its fair share of bloodletting and gruesome deaths, the movie leans more into the action movie aspects than horror. And for the most part, the movie hits the mark as a top-quality action-thriller. Albeit a surprisingly funny one. In fact, the darker aspects of the movie are tempered by some genuinely funny and outlandish moments that will tickle the pickle of audiences everywhere. It’s a hard balance to pull off, but director Gerard Johnstone has captured lightning in a bottle here.

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(from left) M3GAN, Gemma (Allison Williams) and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Tapping into the wider question of how far technology has advanced, Johnstone uses a cleverly woven subplot to draw attention to the addictive nature of our ever-evolving toys. And even questions how we define our roles as parents. As technology advances, we risk allowing these creations to become defacto parents and form real familial bonds with our children. A cycle, that could negate the fabric of what the traditional family dynamic stands for. And the undertone shines a light on where we should toe the line before we create something so revolutionary that we risk replacing ourselves. This brings us to the star of the show. M3GAN.

The doll itself is chilling. Indeed, played perfectly by Amie Donald (movement) and Jenna Davis (voice), the performances by the actors are as unnerving as the plot. And rightly so. Her gentle tone and friendly demeanor make her the perfect child companion. But as her programming evolves, she becomes more unhinged and the change in her persona is harrowing. Like Chucky, I can see M3GAN becoming an icon in her own right. A trailblazer that others will follow, and on the strength of this showing, she certainly earns her stripes. To lethal effect.

M3GAN in M3GAN directed by Gerard Johnstone.

THE CAST

As is always the case, a movie like this is only as good as its cast and I’m delighted to report that everyone is in fine form here. For the most part, the rest of the cast is carried on the broad shoulders of the blood-curdling antagonist. Not that they are sidelined in any way, but M3GAN’s presence is a dominant factor. And she, by far is the star of the show here. Allison Williams’ Gemma turns in an admirable performance, one that highlights her range as she evolves from a career-driven entrepreneur into a surrogate parent to her niece. The evolution of her role isn’t a predominant factor, nor is it shoehorned in. Instead, the transition feels natural, and this is complimented by Violet McGraw’s powerful performance as Cady.

To her credit, McGraw brings out the pain and trauma of being orphaned at such a young age. And her attachment to M3GAN feels warm and genuine. She slips into the role with an energetic freshness and when the battle lines are drawn, her loyalties are tested to their limits. Sometimes in shocking ways. But it’s these undertones that propel us along to the inevitable conclusion.

Allison Williams as Gemma in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

VERDICT

By now it should be abundantly clear that M3GAN is a triumph. One that is self-aware, tense, and surprisingly funny. More than worthy of the price of admission. However, the lack of any genuine horror elements was a disappointment. Sure there are a few jump scares, deaths, and creepy moments. But the overall lack of a killer edge didn’t quite hit the mark with me. And sadly, that is a major detraction from what is otherwise a truly chilling commentary on what a toy should be.

M3GAN is thought-provoking, creepy, chilling, and hilarious, which is a hard balance to find. But Gerard Johnstone has stuck the landing to deliver something truly special here. And with the genre’s finest ambassadors behind him, this fresh new horror/thriller coupled with its terrifying toy star may just serve as the perfect springboard to launch a new horror icon.

And that is what cinema was made for!

M3GAN is distributed by Universal Pictures and lands in cinemas from Friday.

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