There’s no shortage of killer doll movies in Hollywood. From Chuckie, to Annabelle, to that one puppet who’s a Nazi, it’s safe to say this is a fairly familiar concept in Hollywood. The same can be said about movies with corrupted AI’s as their villains, like Skynet or HAL 9000. M3gan is a blend of both, hoping to harness the horror of having a symbol of childhood twisted into something evil while also playing into the modern day fears around the growth of artificial intelligence. But does it succeed with these intentions, or is it doomed to fall to the wayside as another flavor of the month horror film? Let’s talk about it.
First the positives. This film is pretty silly in a fairly self-aware way. When the movie tends to lean more into its goofiness, the movie succeeds. It works a lot better than in a film like Malignant where I thought the film played it too straight, while its silliness really messed with the overall tone. The only reason I bring up Malignant is because this film is another collaboration between director James Wan, who serves as producer for M3gan, and writer Akela Cooper who co-wrote M3gan with Wan. Overall I think this movie knows what it wants to be a bit more confidently, so the comedy aspects definitely work. There’s a pretty great scene that goes from talking about how heaven isn’t real to singing David Guetta’s Titanium in the blink of an eye. It’s not so much a joke heavy film as it is absurd, which is the kind of funny I can get behind. The performances are also pretty good as well. Allison Williams does a fine job as Gemma, a woman forced to try to juggle her career and the sudden guardianship of her niece. Violet McGraw also gives a pretty good child performance as Cady, a girl struggling to adapt after the death of her parents. But then of course we have to talk about M3gan herself, portrayed by Amie Donald, who does a pretty good job blending the realistic and mechanical motions of the living doll. That, coupled with some pretty convincing VFX effects for her facial movements, makes M3gan feel pretty realized with a bit of sass and intimidation.
Those are the bright spots, which I wish played a bigger hand in the film as a whole. Truthfully, M3gan doesn’t really have a lot to offer the genre outside of some decent humor. The film has a lot of slow moments that are obviously there to move the plot forward, but the story just isn’t interesting enough to make me care about these character moments. There are some minor themes of emotional attachment and childhood trauma that are welcome, even if they don’t seem to come completely full circle. Of course this is a horror movie, so I can be a bit more forgiving on these elements if it pays off well in the scares. Unfortunately, it isn’t really all that scary. It gets you a few times with some pretty cheap jump scares, but overall it’s neither tense or disturbing. Apparently there’s a Rated R cut that could have given this movie more of a punch, because a lot of the violence here is pretty tame. There’s one scene involving an ear being pulled and stretched that just looks far too cartoonish. Making the film PG-13 opens an opportunity to make more money, I get that, but it basically makes it stumble as a horror film. If they were going to play it safe on the violence I at least would have liked the overall story to be a bit more off-the-wall, a lot crazier, something that I think Malignant eventually got. The story is incredibly predictable with very familiar story beats and character progression, proving to be pretty forgettable at the end of the day.
Overall, M3gan will be remembered for a handful of moments that I’m sure I’ll see on Twitter for a month or two before disappearing out of the collective consciousness. Yet a movie like this doesn’t infuriate me, I’m all for original (well “original) ideas finding success, especially when it comes to up-and-coming writers getting their foot in the door. In conclusion, M3gan is a bit of fun that will give you a few laughs, but if you’re looking to be scared or see something unique, you may find yourself being disappointed.