New Zealand genre director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) teams up with producer James Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper to give us the little sister movie to Malignant (2021). A tongue in cheek look at the attachment theory, and how technology has silently stolen away the smaller moments we experience between each other in our daily lives. Wait a minute… Am I talking about M3GAN, the killer doll movie? I honestly can’t believe they successfully pulled off a satirical “upgrade” of Tom Holland’s Child’s Play in the vein of Verhoeven’s Robocop, but here we are. That’s not supposed to be in January’s programming!
Cady (played by Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a car accident while on vacation, and ends up living with her brilliant, albeit oblivious Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams of Get Out fame). Parenting is a foreign concept to Gemma, and she would prefer to keep Cady occupied with her latest invention M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), an extremely lifelike doll which she has programmed to perform basic tasks and provide parental guidance. The toy company she works for is expecting to launch an industry changing product, and Gemma has found a way to use Cady’s emotional connection with M3GAN to expedite the process. While it seems like a resounding success at first, Cady begins to grow attached to the doll in unpredictable and unstable ways. This leads Gemma to re-evaluate the entire project, but M3GAN always seems to know how to keep that from happening.
Chances are you have seen one or two films that have played out like this before. However, I’d argue that M3GAN really nails that PG-13 horror/comedy tone which has been so unimaginably lame for so many years. Certain scenes are impeccably constructed to switch between melodrama to comedy in an instant, and the filmmakers find multiple ways to push the boundaries of what is acceptable for a tougher tween audience. It’s not overly bloody by any stretch of the imagination, but there is plenty of fun to be had for more seasoned horror fans. Jenna Davis voices M3GAN, and she does provide that spark of life that you need from an uncanny valley slasher like this. It’s unfortunate that she has to purposefully sound like a robot, but her talent shines through with the nuance that she does bring to the lines that allow it.
As briefly mentioned earlier, Johnstone channels Verhoeven’s Robocop and Holland’s Child’s Play visually and thematically with similar beats in the final act. I’d wager that younger audiences won’t pick up on that, and I could see this film becoming a staple of birthday parties and sleepovers for years to come. Perhaps even a gateway to a world of older tiny terrors like Puppet Master (1989). There is a real joy to be had watching this film take a sharp blade to the commercial world of children’s merchandise and tear it to pieces. I’m not sure it’s saying anything that we aren’t already aware of, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t completely entertained for the entire 102 minute runtime.