Director Gerard Johnstone, James Wan, and Akela Cooper delivered one hell of a terrorizing statement by introducing M3GAN, the character that embodies the very definition of apotheosis regarding doll hood. The Horror Films of the Year race might have locked up early.
And assuredly, comparisons will inevitably arise between the Child’s Play and Annabelle series. Still, the malevolent agents in those features stick towards the doll realm with amped-up levels of supernatural chicanery. M3GAN amplifies her doll presence with a robotic intelligence that sufficiently feels realistic, albeit sustaining a genuine level of subversion and creepiness. The placid designs are enhanced with visual effects that are disturbingly eldritch when she comes to life, thanks to voicing from Jenna Davis and stellar performance work from Amie Donald. In layman’s terms, “M3GAN” is like HAL 9000 meets Chucky and Apple’s Siri, then becomes corrupted by Skynet, and it subtly points at a fascinating bit of satire the feature encompasses (more on that in a bit).
The plot follows Gemma (Allison Williams) working for an advanced toy company. She aspires to create prototypes of M3GAN (standing for Model 3 Generative Android) to produce the best interactive smart toys on the market. The prototype is built with a metallic skeleton, lasers, silicon skin, Peggy Lipton-Esque hair, and a highly developed artificial intelligence chip. Arnold Schwarzenegger might have to consider releasing a director’s cut of The Terminator if he wants to stay in the competition. Anyway, M3GAN’s encyclopedic knowledge and patented closeness to Gemma’s niece Cady (Violet McGraw), make her something along the lines of a soulmate. However, when she witnesses anyone hurting Cady in any fashion, M3GAN’s attitude silently becomes foreboding, and she takes matters to bring about casualties due to her solemn duty to protect Cady.
The feature might be steeped in pop-culture role play, but its triviality makes it equally absurd and diverting. Usually, we’d be shutting down talks of a film like this since reigning blockbusters such as Avatar: The Way of Water are legging out over the winter season while drawing in billions of dollars. M3GAN almost entails the dealings of a cult film, a thriller quietly developing a small feverish following and can (easily) take the place of the past eras of mediocre Halloween films. Witnessing the movie casually can still work, but it cautiously reminds us of the warming dangers between humanity and artificial intelligence. That element makes it gripping, as the satirical target is humanity, believing that artificial intelligence can pave our trajectory yet failing to recognize the severe consequences. But what if AI doesn’t become the companion we seek? What if the aspirations become darker and out of control, and humanity cannot control them? It’s ingenious thinking, and a round of applause should go towards the production team for bringing in skepticism regarding technology’s current and future usage.
Johnstone gets marks for bringing that balance of comedy and carnage from his Housebound work. Unfortunately, the pacing at the beginning drags until M3GAN makes her presence known and precociously starts becoming fiercer and more devilish. The robotic doll steals the scene in every manner possible, and Williams and McGraw provide solid performances to react to the mayhem. The takedown of corporate culture is amusing but largely uninteresting, as Ronny Chieng’s David, Brian Jordan Alvarez’s Cole, and Jen Van Epps’ Tess play more as assembly line stand-ins for a feature revolving mainly around a dangerous doll.
While the motion picture also strikes vibes concurrently with stellar works like Ex Machina and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the third act abates its cleverness a bit and falls into the typical horror cliches that permeate almost every other horror picture out there. It’s not exactly fresh if we’ve seen the bits of A.I. rebelling against their initial protocols in several other movies. But credit where it’s due, this horror selection warns about the deranged insight of technology’s advancements while providing scary fun and entertainment.
M3GAN, as your new friend, provides all the thrills and chills you need.