One genre that I’ve always found easily digestible is the ‘inanimate object-takes-on-murderous-human traits due to possession / curse / data corruption etc’ flick, going back to a little-remembered horror from 1987 called Dolls that scared the shit outta 13-year old me back in the day. That one stuck with me (not a great movie, but still) and lent a certain curiosity about any cinematic offering that takes on this age-old genre concept. It’s certainly not a new idea, and many other movies dating far further back than the late ‘80’s, have tackled it, with varying degrees of success. Some are good…some are garbage.
I’m happy to report that M3GAN is one of the good ones.
The story opens with a young girl named ‘Cady’ (Violet McGraw) on a skiing trip with her parents. After becoming lost in a blizzard, their vehicle is abruptly totaled by a snow plow, and Mom and Dad bite the dust. We then meet ‘Gemma’ (Allison Williams), who is ‘Cady’s estranged aunt, who happens to be a brilliant robotics engineer on the cusp of a technological breakthrough for the toy company she works for. Being the girl’s only surviving relative, ‘Gemma’ reluctantly takes on the required maternal duties, moving ‘Cady’ into her not-set-up-for-kids home.
As it becomes clear that ‘Cady’ is not coping well with the death of her parents, ‘Gemma’ sees a potentially mutually beneficial solution she deems worth trying. She has recently developed a next-level robotic doll, nick-named M3GAN (pronounced Megan, you pedantic shits : ), essentially tying that person to a sentient robot that develops as the child does. Being only in the prototype phase, ‘Gemma’ opts to use her niece as an ad hoc ‘human trial’, to prove M3GAN’s worth to the company’s dismissive CEO as a potential toy companion for lonely girls. However, ‘Gemma’s too smart for her own good and her technological triumph begins spiraling dangerously out of control as M3GAN begins developing, her intelligence and abilities rapidly advancing while her bond with ‘Cady’ strengthens dangerously. That bond eventually results in murder and mayhem.
Once again, I’ve got to say that, for the most part, when you see names like Blumhouse Productions or James Wan (Saw) in the credits, more often than not, the end product will be of a somewhat elevated quality, usually offering up smart writing and effective thrills on a modest but well-used budget. M3GAN is rumored to have come in around $12 million (chump change, by Hollywood’s over-inflated standards) and I’d say almost every dollar is there on screen. This movie is slick and good-looking in its execution, and not once did I find myself noticing a B-movie quality. Director Gerard Johnstone, a director I’m admittedly unfamiliar with, brought it together in a tight little 1 hour and 42 minute package that put its meagre budget where it counted.
One aspect that I see as both a strength AND a weakness with M3GAN is the simplicity of the story. It’s refreshingly straightforward in its approach and doesn’t take too many detours from the main narrative. However, what I did get left me wanting more, some more ‘flesh’ on the world the story inhabits. Fill the narrative out a bit more. After reading up on some of the Behind the Scenes goodies, it would seem that at one point, at very least in the initial script phase (though it may have actually been shot in full but cut for time and rating), there were more characters and scenarios, and naturally the body count was higher.
Which brings me to the only real Negative to come to mind. As I was saying, a bit more on the bones of the story would’ve helped and hopefully with that, some of M3GAN’s abilities could’ve been better explained. As the movie goes on, the things that ‘she’ is able to do in her quest to terrorize become just a wee bit too convenient, without much explanation as to how or when a particular nefarious ability came to be in her programming. Either the writing glossed over this or the finer details were whittled down in editing. Either way, eventually I just went along with it and ended up having a good time.
Now, as you can see from the title above, I checked out the Unrated cut. Lots of Unrated cuts of movies have more material, with some even coming close to representing a full-on Director’s Cut, but this one was literally just 6 seconds longer, which amounted to a couple appropriately nasty and gory shots that added some more of a ‘horror’ element. Sick bastard that I am, I appreciated the chance to see some splatter brought about by a genuinely spooky antagonist.
Now it’s easy to argue that dolls, much like clowns, are just (super?) naturally creepy, but the way Johnstone chose to portray ‘M3GAN’ was inspired and effective. That little bitch creeped my wife and I out almost every time she was onscreen and I applaud the efforts that went into pulling that off. I also applauded the choice to keep her looking distinctly doll-like, not just a perfect copy of a human, ala the androids in the Alien franchise or the replicants in the Blade Runner films. It made her somehow more…otherworldly, which became a strength for the character and helped dial up the spook factor.
The cast of largely unknowns, led by Allison Williams and Violet McGraw, are terrifically complimented by the performance of Amie Donald as ‘M3GAN’. That girl, whoever she is, definitely knew how to raise the creep factor with her performance (that hallway dance was unnerving!), and I’d be curious to see what she does with the role in the not-just-a-rumor-anymore M3GAN 2.0.
That fact that M3GAN is getting a sequel comes as no surprise at all, given how it managed to turn $12 million into $176 million, and I admit that I’m genuinely intrigued to see where they go with the story. There are a couple sequel-friendly plot set-ups that were hinted at that could work very effectively if, like anything, they’re applied correctly.
In a nutshell, my wife and I had a good time with the Unrated version of M3GAN. It was a simple and straight-forward thriller that was effectively told under the constraints of a low budget; constraints that did not detrimentally show themselves onscreen and resulted in some creative ways to execute certain scenes that added to the overall thrills. ‘M3GAN’ herself is a nasty little piece of work who I had fun rooting against, while also being spooked out by her on more than one occasion. For a plot that we’ve seen numerous times before, she made a solid villain that deserves another round against her flawed human creators.
If this kind of sci-fi / horror / thriller is your bag…then you could certainly do worse than M3GAN. It’s a competent little thriller that knows just what it is and embraces it with everything it has and that resulted in a fun time At the Movies for us. For some easily digestible thrills that will hold your attention and a genuinely evil ‘bad guy’, I can easily recommend that you get introduced to M3GAN.
“If she comes in this room, I’ll rip your head right off your fucking neck, I swear to God.”