Campy M3GAN Kicks off 2023 with a Bloodcurdling Bang
After her parents are tragically killed in an automobile accident on the way to an Oregon ski resort, eight-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw) is sent to live in Seattle with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a robotics engineer at a toy company. Not having the first clue how to deal or connect with her niece, the electronics whiz is instead inspired to finish crafting her greatest invention: M3GAN.
M3GAN is an advanced, four-foot-tall, hyperrealistic robotic doll programmed to instantly bond with its new owner. It listens to Cady’s needs, responds to her questions, is her greatest confidant, and becomes the best friend the little girl has ever had. The cybernetic humanoid hybrid is a spectacular success, and not only does this creation put Gemma on the fast track to success with her employers, but the robot also appears to have helped ease her niece’s unfathomable pain over the loss of her parents.
Anyone well versed in their Isaac Asimov or Harlan Ellison knows what’s going to happen next. Robotics and artificial intelligence don’t tend to make comfortable bedfellows, and that is indeed the case with this goofily energetic film from Gerard Johnstone (Housebound). Working from a screenplay written by Malignant scribe Akela Cooper, the director unleashes a sensationally entertaining robotic-doll-run-amok sci-fi thriller that helps start 2023 off with a campily bloodcurdling bang.
None of the actors mug for the camera. Everyone is all in on the gag, no matter how ridiculous events become. This is especially true for M3GAN. Cooper’s dialogue overflows in choice nuggets that are almost certain to instantly enter the pop culture lexicon, each delivered with pinpoint, malevolent precision by the character’s voiceover actor, Jenna Davis.
As for M3GAN’s impressive physical performance, it is a mixture of child actor Amie Donald’s acrobatically lithe movements and eyebrow raises, incredible practical makeup effects, and seamless digital motion capture. The robot is 100% realistic. I believed M3GAN existed from the first moment the mechanical being bonded with Cady. It’s stunning work, and the doll’s climactic rampage is all the more effective because of it.
Much like Malignant, this horror effort does get undeniably silly, and I knew from the start where this mechanically diabolic madness was headed. But Williams and especially McGraw give it their all, and I liked how authentically Cady and Gemma’s relationship evolved. They never go over the top or let their performances become overtly theatrical, the duo instead maintaining a straight face even when delivering one-liners that would have made Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger cringe in their action-hero heydays.
There’s not much more to add. The way my promo audience reacted, M3GAN has all the makings of being a January surprise hit and the start of a new franchise, one that has the potential to get even better with a second chapter. I’m pretty positive this film and I will be friends to the end, and I’m equally confident everyone from Talking Tina to Chucky himself would happily add M3GAN to their “killer doll” support group if given the opportunity.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)