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M3gan (15)

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Screenplay: Akela Cooper

Starring: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng

Review: David Stephens

It used to be the case that if a genre movie was released theatrically in January, then it was going to be a B-movie bummer and was generally kept from the critics beforehand, whilst desperate promotional campaigns did their thang. That’s been thankfully overturned in recent years, with movies like Scream (5) and others being received well and doing good business in that release slot. Studios are waking up to the fact that audiences are gagging for something other than Christmas blockbusters in the New Year. And so here we have another significant genre release from Blumhouse that has been building quite the zeitgeist since its canny first trailer last year. M3gan (“Em-Three-Gan”? “Meegan”? Just “Megan”? Bloody “Se7en”! That’s what started this numeracy titular cobblers!) is directed by Gerard Johnstone, the writer and maker of the superb NZ horror/comedy Housebound from 2014. It was written by Akela Cooper (Malignant) with help from the ubiquitous James Wan, who also produced alongside Jason Blum. Starring Alison Williams (Get Out) and Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House) it opened in the US on the first full week of January and is now pretty much international, having already turned a very healthy profit. So let’s hit the power-on button.  


The film starts with a spot-on parody of modern toys with a commercial for “PurrPetual Petz”, hideous furry trolls that poop and have horrible human-like teeth. The kids love ‘em though and they’re the best-selling interactive tech toy for Funki. This organisation looks like a woeful mix of “Google” and “Toys R ‘Us” with an Elon Musk figurehead in the shape of David Lin (Ronny Chieng). Gemma (Williams) is the maker of the annoying playthings but has another project in mind. This is interrupted by the tragic death of her sister and brother-in-law in an accident, leading her to become the guardian of her niece Cady (McGraw). Boosted by her grief and Cady’s interest in hi-tech, she finishes work on “M3gan”, a lifelike doll with artificial intelligence. Cady becomes obsessed with her new friend, but then M3gan starts to become … overprotective of her human charge.


On first viewing, people might be surprised as to how much of a 1 hour and 42 minute running time is given over to the set-up and the drama-of-the-week interactions. Despite the odd moment of black comedy, spot-on satire, and ominous stares, then the first half could be easily mistaken for an afternoon tear-jerker… apart from the uncanny valley looks of the title character. So it’s more Small Wonder than Chopping Mall (NB: Search for “Small Wonder Credits” and the 1985 sitcom. You won’t believe it was real!). Both Williams and McGraw are both really good in their pivotal roles, especially when Cady becomes understandably enraged by her predicament. It’s just that it takes a tad too long to get to … well, we know what you came to see!


Before we cover the horror element, it’s worth highlighting the exceptional work that has gone into realising M3gan herself. The voice (excellent vocal work from Jenna Davis) is slightly auto-tuned and comes across as distinctively disturbing when talking maturely about wrongful things. “In a nutshell” and “Big Whoop!” don’t sound creepy but they are mic-drops when Davis gets hold of the lines and says them in context. It’s almost as if Hal 9000 was possessing a Barbie doll! There are no Chucky-like profanities, but when M3gan starts to drop some “Jesus Christ!” statements with a baleful stare, it just chills. Whilst a little CGI is done to touch up some of the scenes, it’s mostly genuine animatronics and practical effects which is refreshing


The slight elephant in the room with horror fans is that this was originally going to be R-rated before it was reshot for a PG-13. So there is genuinely more blood spray in the trailer than in the actual film. There may be an unrated home media version at some point, but no self-respecting fan of Wan (especially Malignant) is going to be overjoyed with that news. Having said that and bearing in mind that Drag Me to Hell was a PG-13, it still hits the mark in some genre areas. M3gan has the voice-impersonation skill of Predator and the tenacity of Terminator which makes for some fun moments, just not as many as you would like. However, the gloves well and truly come off for the bat-shit-go-for-it final act! All of the elements that you were expecting from the trailer are thrown wholesale at the screen for a frantic and insanely satisfying climax. If you loved the nutty excesses of Malignant, then this goes down a similar path, albeit without the bloody gore of that cult movie.


There are also some LOL lines. “Kick Hasbro in the dick!” and Bully Brandon’s curt reply to his mother’s question top the pile. Some of the themes have rung a chord with the LGBT+ community and movie buffs can spot sly call-backs to some films such as Die Hard and Robocop, as well as obvious references to Child’s Play and The Terminator. It looks to have legs and the memory of the final scenes will leave you leaving the cinema with a goofy grin, even if we could have done without the cloying rendition of “Titanium”. A sequel has been announced and judging by this, it could be enormous fun. “M3gan V 2.0”? Place your bets. Not classic but highly enjoyable.

In all honesty, this is mostly a 3-star PG-13 horror, but the insanely entertaining final act takes it to another level. Williams and McGraw give likeable performances, as do those who bring “life” to M3gan. Some nice satire and some genuinely creepy moments, but the full potential is only realised late in the proceedings. Still, it’s another well-made piece of genre hokum that provides superior enjoyment for those who like their horror with its tongue piercing the cheek.
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