M3GAN might be an all-time great horror villain — Chucky for a new generation

3 out of 5 stars

M3GAN, the doll, the character, the icon, has earned her fanfare. Created using a combination of puppetry and human performance, the buttoned-up, Victorian doll android with a mission to love and protect is as cool as the trailers suggest. She is a camp queen who stands proud alongside her obvious predecessors in the Chucky franchise; even removing her meme-ability, M3GAN is just very cool and fun. She has all the makings of an all-time horror film villain, and that’s a rarity these days. M3GAN is a rare film that has me rooting for a sequel.

Set against the backdrop of the tech world, M3GAN (the film) opens with a faux trailer for a farting and pooping robot pet. Setting the tone for the film that will often be more funny than horrific, we are also introduced to a world where people increasingly retreat from each other. Children are glued to their screens, and parents struggle to impose healthy boundaries between work and family life. 

The film’s ideas are strong and, for the most part, well articulated. After the death of her sister and brother-in-law, Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes the sole guardian of their daughter Cady (Violet McGraw). A workaholic who is ill-equipped to care for a child, despite working for a toy company, Gemma doesn’t know how to begin to care for Cady, let alone help her deal with the trauma of losing both of her parents, so she revives an abandoned project: M3GAN. 

m3gan

M3GAN quickly becomes Cady’s best friend and guardian. She is the perfect companion, caring for Cady’s needs and even providing emotional support. M3GAN’s programming also means that anyone who might harm Cady will suddenly find themselves in big trouble — even though she’s been programmed not to hurt anyone. M3GAN also quickly becomes the most valuable asset at Gemma’s company, a new piece of technology poised to change the world forever. 

While the ideas laid out in M3GAN are all strong and compelling, the execution of the story leaves something to be desired. The film doesn’t strike the right balance between horror and comedy, failing to be as scary or funny as it should be. Like many contemporary horror films, it falters by embracing too much naturalism and failing to go “big” enough. Though there’s a risk that going too big or broad in terms of comedy will diminish the pathos of the central relationship between Cady and Gemma, which is very well-executed, I have to believe their performances and rapport would still shine through. 

In one sequence, Cady goes to an alternative school and finds herself faced with a bully with behavioural issues. It is one of the best sequences in the film, if only for M3GAN’s grotesque ear-pulling, but it is also representative of the film holding back. While bigger than the other kids and borderline sociopathic, he should have been bigger and meaner. The editing, which features his mother talking to Gemma about his potential, lacks a pointed edge. The potential was all laid out, but the unwillingness to go full camp, not just conceptually but in aesthetics, keeps the film from hitting it out of the park. 

Overall, the film has enough fun and a breezy running time that it’s worth the experience. The scenes where M3GAN sings pop tunes in her tingy child voice are worth the price of admission. The ideas in the movie also harken back to great horror that acts as pointed social commentary. How are we harming our children by not allowing them to live in the real world? To experience real emotions and even boredom? What does it say about our relationship with our jobs that we are forced to sacrifice all aspects of our personal lives to succeed? Is this the life we want? ■

M3gan (directed by Gerard Johnstone)

M3gan is currently screening in Montreal theatres.


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