I can already hear the cries of “Oh, how I wish it was R-rated” from those that don’t know how to have fun without it being “hardcore.”
James Wan is something near horror royalty these days. His last film, Malignant, is a wonderfully silly homage to Giallo films of the 70s and it’s one of the wildest things I’ve seen in ages (that chair throw is breathtaking). He’s produced a script by the same writer, Akela Cooper (Malignant, American Horror Story), about a doll that loves her owner just a smidge too much and it’s an absolute hoot.
Something this self-aware has a delicate tightrope to walk but Cooper’s screenplay melds wonderfully with director Gerard Johnstone’s (Housebound) candy-flavored atmosphere, delivering a film that is completely in sync with its own memeability. M3GAN breakout star Amie Donald has developed the physical performance of a lifetime and it pays off with every moment the titular doll is onscreen. When a film is designed so that viewers can play a drinking game in it (the most fun of which will be “chug every time M3GAN sings”) it can get a bit cynical, leaving viewers in the weeds and the film bored with its own existence. Luckily M3GAN is able to wrestle that impulse down and turn out a campy instant classic that will score with all ages.
Toys are on the brain from the into of Johnstone’s film, from the silly Furby-knockoffs with the most horrifying teeth imaginable to the titular doll itself and even some collectibles that haven’t found their way out of the boxes yet. After the opening commercial, we see one of the dolls become responsible for the death of two obnoxiously millennial parents, a spectacular opening involving a fight about screentime chains on tires before a snow plow sends young Cady (Violet McGraw) to her aunt Gemma’s (Allison Williams) and we’re off to the races! Gemma works for David Lin (Ronny Chieng) at a toy company and is behind on a pitch for a cheaper, equally-as-enticing version of their hit Furby-wannabe. The delay is caused by her work on M3GAN, an android toy she’s been developing that seems like more of a replacement parent than a childhood companion. That’s how she winds up using it but her code is just too good, leading the doll to become self-aware and start hacking off anyone that may threaten Cady’s happiness or physical being.
Horror movies are often built on irresponsible, idiotic characters, but it’s sort of fitting to witness a moronic tech bro CEO with dollar signs in his eyes talk to a scientist that has no morals and really didn’t want kids given the current climate of American economics. David is a blast to watch onscreen, openly unable to actually develop anything on his own and merely a frontman for the company production that unfortunately holds power over the lifeblood scientists. He’s douchy and loves kombucha, that’s enough for me. Gemma, on the other hand, sincerely believes in the work she’s doing but only for the sake of accomplishing it. David utters the line, “M3GAN is great, and not just for kids with dead parents,” and that’s the vibe of every adult in this film. Gemma is concerned for her niece but openly disconnected from Cady’s mother. She has no idea what to do and the only way she can connect is through showing the young girl how cool her work is, bringing out gloves to control a robot named Bruce, which was her thesis project, and showing her designs for the toy she just can’t finish. There’s nothing about any singular performance that isn’t silly and in tune with what the film is doing and it’s awesome.
While the film may contain that serious and silly tone of sincerity it has a whimsical morbidity that is as mischievous as its title character. At its base this is a slasher in the vein of Child’s Play, ripping through characters like they’re soft butter and regurgitating them out of the other side of the grinder with no sympathy. Kills are kills and it’s what horror fans are here to see. M3GAN isn’t as gory as an R-rated film would be but it makes up for the lack of viscera with its humor, charm, and willingness to push the boundaries of its rating as far as they can go.
This is an absolute blast and I hope you all go meet M3GAN! It’s a good time for everyone, even those a bit nervous about the scarier side of cinema, and I think there’s a lot to be delighted about in this latest camp classic.
M3GAN is currently playing in theatres.