Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.
Classification: PG; 102 minutes
Directed by Gerard Johnstone
Written by Akela Cooper and James Wan
Starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw and Amie Donald
Opens in theatres Jan. 6
With a marketing campaign that capitalized on its titular character’s instantly iconic The Exorcist-meets-TikTok physicality and sly-yet-deadpan line delivery, horror-comedy flick M3GAN feels tailor-made for extremely-online audiences looking for a new camp-horror icon.
Directed by Gerard Johnstone, who made his debut in 2014 with the similarly hybrid genre film Housebound, M3GAN arrives on the heels of 2019′s Child’s Play remake, taking the well-established killer-doll storyline and reorienting it for the Gen Z and millennial set.
M3GAN – for those who somehow missed the online fervour surrounding the character – is a lifelike cyborg-doll meant to serve as not just a toy but also a companion. Invented by eager roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams), who has just taken in her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after the death of the young girl’s parents, the M3GAN robot is envisioned as being an integral part of its purchaser’s family, and with self-learning and adaptive artificial-intelligence software that takes on the role of a trusted friend, teacher and, at times, even caregiver.
For Cady, her M3GAN prototype is not only a way of testing her aunt’s uncanny tech brainchild, but a much-needed confidante that’s able to offer the support that Gemma, a career-driven young woman, is not yet able to provide. The pair bond instantly, both literally and figuratively – M3GAN is programmed with the ability to parse the girl’s ever-changing emotional and physical states. The doll’s goal, as given to her by Gemma herself, is to protect Cady from any and all harm. Predictably, it isn’t long before this objective is achieved through murderous means.
With a story credit from horror mastermind James Wan and a script by Malignant writer Akela Cooper, M3GAN is as expectedly silly, goofy and instantly iconic as its PR strategy would suggest. It is a highly entertaining romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is unapologetic in both its self-awareness and sense of humour. While the film does a decent job of exploring the ethics of opening the door to such a deepened emotional connection between a child and what is basically a Tesla-priced-toy (and McGraw is great here as a grieving child who has become overly attached to her not-quite-human friend), the real draw in M3GAN has to be its dedication to a bit.
While more of a dark comedy than a horror film through and through (surely that PG-13 rating, clearly intended to get younger bodies in movie seats, is responsible for the movie’s lacklustre restraint in terms of the expected thrills), M3GAN knows exactly the kind of movie it is, and plays to its audience expertly. While the kills could be bigger, bolder and more frequent – and the slow-burn nature of the first half is entirely unnecessary (frankly, we all know what we are here to see) – M3GAN exists as a delightfully chaotic pop culture pastiche.
Clad in her American Doll-esque apparel and performing more than a couple … how shall we say … renditions of David Guetta and Sia’s song Titanium, M3GAN has the kind of undeniable replay value that those in search of the newest unhinged “girlie out for blood” movie long for. It is the film’s self-reflexive investment in character (however one-note) and one-liners that almost make you forget about the bits and pieces of its story that don’t quite add up. (Surely better use could have been made of Gemma’s heavily interconnected smart-home setup in terms of scares?)
While M3GAN doesn’t revolutionize the subgenre that it’s working in, it is a hell of a good time. And with its hints at a potential sequel, one can only hope that, someday soon, M3GAN is finally turned loose with all of her full and true deranged potential.
Special to The Globe and Mail