M3GAN (now on VOD streaming services like Amazon Prime Video) is a horror-comedy co-produced by genre masters James Wan (who has story credit) and Jason “Blumhouse” Blum. It’s the story of a murder-doll-bot that’s part Chucky, part Terminator, not enough Monster of Frankenstein, starring Allison Williams, perhaps best known for memorably, loudly crunching on dry Froot Loops in Get Out. The movie rode its meme-heavy marketing campaign to $127 million worldwide at the box office, exceptional for a January release. And I know it’s stupidly early, but it’ll be tough to find a movie in 2023 that’ll make me laugh more than this.
M3GAN: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The hot new kid’s toy that’s all the rage is Purrpetual Petz, a troll-Furby combo-wad of fluff and microchips that poops and farts and learns how to say annoying, vaguely disrespectful things. Cady (Violet McGraw) has one, a gift from her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), who invented the godawful thing. Cady’s playing with it in the backseat and her mother grouses, what kind of stupid-ass toy needs an app in order to play with it – and then a massive plow truck slams into them. Voila. Instant orphan.
Elsewhere. The aforementioned Gemma works for Funki Toys, in the development laboratory. She’s under pressure to create a cheaper version of Purrpetual Petz, because the competitors’ knockoff is kicking their ass. Boring gig. So boring, she’s secretly developing M3GAN – or Model 3 Generative Android if brevity ain’t your thing, but why wouldn’t it be? – a life-size robot doll with advanced AI learning capabilities. It’s going poorly: She’s barely got a silicone face stretched over its little mini-T-800 head and it’s already sneering like Johnny Rotten in the presence of British royalty. And then its head explodes. And then she learns her sister and brother-in-law are dead, and Gemma’s heretofore Cady’s legal guardian. Rough day.
Cady’s face is still nicked up and healing when Gemma brings her to her bachelorette pad, with its expensive turntable and toys that are “collectables” on a shelf and are not to be played with or removed from their boxes. This isn’t going to be easy, of course – they’re both grieving and their lives are now upside-down and Gemma has a lot more to do than just work and respond to the five Tinder notifications her smart speaker reminds her of. She and Cady butt heads and Gemma’s boss is on her case but a double breakthrough comes when they’re in Gemma’s workshop and she shows off the big robot she built in college that surely won’t come in handy in the third act, and Cady perks up and then suddenly, Gemma finds herself in a montage de inspiration. Music plays and many clever edits occur and there she is, M3GAN (motion-captured by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis), four feet tall, blond hair, ludicrous old-timey Sunday-church-clothes wardrobe, RoboCop heads-up display that calculates peoples’ emotions and creepy dead robot eyes and creepy robot mouth that doesn’t match up with the words she says, and all.
But oh, the things she says. They’re perfect things, sometimes sweet and thoughtful, sometimes dripping with sarcasm, sometimes outright threatening, but I’m getting ahead of things here. M3GAN is fast, fast friends with Cady, who forgets all about her dead parents and now has a best friend to play with her and remind her to flush the toilet and sit there on a shelf and stare at her while she sleeps. M3GAN goes everywhere with Cady. Everywhere! She’s EXACTLY what every kid needs. Gemma’s M3GAN presentation to the bigwigs goes smashingly and before you know it, the girlbot is going to make everyone millions and it/she (they?) is lecturing Gemma about parenting although Gemma can press a button to turn her volume way down or just turn her off – for now, anyway. Then talk gets around to what Gemma considers quite rightly to be one of Cady’s needs [SERVO NOISE AS M3GAN LOOKS AT HER VAGUELY MENACINGLY], namely, interacting with “real kids” [LOW-ANGLE SHOT OF M3GAN DEATH-GLARING AT GEMMA]. At this point, it’s pretty clear that nothing could possibly go wrong, so you can absolutely just shut the movie off and go to bed now.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The easy comparisons are Child’s Play, Annabelle, The Boy, Teddy Ruxpin commercials from 1986 and all the other creepy-killer-doll fodder out there, but for me, M3GAN is the funniest, wildest horror movie I’ve seen since Wan’s nutzoid directorial effort Malignant.
Performance Worth Watching: Donald makes all the right moves as M3GAN’s physical presence, and Williams holds the movie together by setting the tone for winking self-awareness, without ever actually winking or being obviously self-referential.
Memorable Dialogue: A vengeful M3GAN faces off with Gemma’s annoying neighbor with the annoying dog that bit Cady:
Neighbor lady: What are you?
M3GAN: I’ve been asking myself that same question.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: At first glance, M(THREE)GAN appears to be campy-goofball horror dreck, but it upends those expectations with the perfect marriage of stupid and stylish, of slashy satire and giddy scares. Or should that be giddy satire and slashy scares? Doesn’t matter – it all works, and against the odds, since the premise is familiar, the meme-ness of the pre-release hype was grating, and so many January horror movies are frequently like the yellow Starburst in the package, because yellow is the worst Starburst in the package.
But M3GAN is one hell of a hoot, with satisfying kills and big, raucous laughs, although sometimes those two things are very much the same thing. The big running joke is, M3GAN is a learning AI who learns all the wrong things, presumably from the very place one shouldn’t go to learn things, the internet: singing pop songs with a vocoder voice, dancing like TikTokers, throwing shade like a snippy subtweet, etc. There’s also a scene in which M3GAN says all the right things as she comforts Cady in her grief; contrast that with her not-obvious but very heavily implied #MeToo moment, which is gruesome and hilarious, and makes you wish this thing was R-rated so she could really get out the razor blades.
So maybe the goremavens won’t be wholly satisfied. But those of us with our heads screwed on straight will be too busy chortling to notice any missed opportunities for extreme violence. A little restraint works here, since scripter Akela Cooper (she also wrote Malignant!) shows some writerly finesse with a beware-of-tech, gee-aren’t-we-addicted-to-our-screens cautionary tale, sleight-of-handing with M3GAN’s batshit antics – which are frequently subtle, jokes keenly modulated via her ugly, ominous face or the single whirr of her eyeball servos – while skewering our modern connected life with a little backhanded satire. Director Gerard Johnstone shows intent and purpose visually and with pacing, maintaining a light snappiness and employing a smattering of clever camera angles. M3GAN isn’t ostensibly a comedy, but it’s funny as f—.
Our Call: STREAM IT.M3GAN is sublimely ridiculous, and far, far better than it probably ever needed to be.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
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