By Ben Konuch
“With MEGAN around she can take care of the little things, so you can have time to take care of the things that matter.”
Do you like dolls? Do you like really unsettling, creepy dolls? If you’re like me, the answer is most likely a definitive, “NO!” But James Wan, the creative mind behind “Saw” and the “Conjuring” franchise, knows this and decided that the natural response to our unanimous answer would be to write another unsettling, creepy doll movie. This time,Wan and director Gerard Johnstone have decided to give us a film that’s equal parts disturbing and funny, as “M3GAN” is a film that knows it’s campy as well as creepy and enjoys every second of its ridiculous, goofy, blood-soaked runtime.
The film follows a woman named Gemma, played by Allison Williams, who works as a roboticist at a high-concept toy company. Tasked with developing a newer, cheaper model of the company’s trademark robotic toy, Gemma struggles to find meaning and inspiration for her work, choosing instead to focus on her dream project, a lifelike robotic doll with a state-of-the-art AI system named M3GAN. When Gemma’s sister and her husband get into a horrible accident leaving Genna’s niece Cady an orphan, Gemma takes custody of the young girl but struggles to connect with her. This gives her an opportunity to make M3GAN a reality in order to give Cady a friend and someone to connect with, but this good intention quickly takes a darker turn.
While the story isn’t very deep or necessarily unique, it’s an undeniably good time. The filmmakers have instilled “M3GAN” with such a deep and profound sense of dread throughout its runtime that even the most normal, wholesome scenes can suddenly shift into fear naturally but with absolutely no warning. In fact, most of the film seems disconnected from its genre, and there are moments where “M3GAN” almost tricks you into forgetting that is in fact a horror movie. Themes of loss and grief are evident, and tender moments between Cady and M3GAN blur the lines between horror and drama, purposefully lowering your guard while it never quite lets you forget that things aren’t quite right. This is a concept I’ve seldom seen done as well as “M3GAN” demonstrates, and it makes the film a truly unique experience despite its straightforward appearance.
M3GAN herself is fantastically realized, with young performer Amie Donald doing a standout physical performance of M3GAN’s movements and characterization, with a sometimes-cute and sometimes-chilling voice performance by Jenna Davis giving unsettling life to M3GAN. Prosthetics and CGI create the purposefully “uncanny valley” look to the doll, as M3GAN is an early prototype and the film is very clear to show that while the line between AI and humans is being blurred, it’s still never fully crossed.
The themes and genre of “M3GAN” also keep it from being just a mediocre horror adventure. Instead, the film actively critiques itself and its consumerism and dives deep into ideas and concepts far beyond what a simple horror film should. It raises the question of how technology that’s meant to unite us oftentimes ends up tearing us apart – even while “M3GAN” takes that a little too literally – and the entire whole film is structured around the importance of growing up and letting go of what we hold onto as children.
“M3GAN” also balances its tone between horror and comedy as expertly as a tightrope walker. Ridiculous moments between M3GAN and Gemma and Cady, as well as its critique of the toy industry, inject humor into the film. M3GAN’s presence in certain scenes or situations alone sometimes even serves as comedy.
However, one of the biggest flaws of “M3GAN” is its death count. For a horror movie, or even for a thriller, there is a strikingly low amount of actual violence that happens. This isn’t inherently a problem nor is the PG-13 rating an issue, as “M3GAN” is able to depict its death and horror well without going into abundant gore or overly-violent imagery. But when the majority of the film is a fantastic slow-burn to M3GAN’s turning point, and when the moment that she truly switches from a struggling AI program into a sentient being is utterly chilling, it’s very disappointing that what comes after is more of a flicker than an inferno.
Overall, “M3GAN” is a film that’s unique in its tone and offers genuine thrills and comedy, even while its thrills and death toll don’t quite live up to its potential. There were plenty of places where “M3GAN” could have done more with its premise or themes it could have pursued more, but overall, the film was a consistently entertaining two hours that brought some good laughs and a few shocks.
I give “M3GAN” a 7/10
“M3GAN” is now showing in theaters
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of Universal Pictures