Film Review: M3GAN

FIFTY+SA film and book reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews Aussie producer James Wan’s surprise hit M3GAN (M).

Aussie producer James Wan’s latest has been a surprise hit due to simple marketing campaigns and strong ‘WOM’ (‘word of mouth’, actually pronounced like it’s spelt), and features a titular ‘character’ that’s somehow become quite the cultural phenomenon, even though we’ve seen ‘her’ type before. And often.

This was a chummy production, with Aussie James Wan producing through his Atomic Monster and Jason Blum through his Blumhouse, and with American screenwriter Akela Cooper (of Wan’s Malignant) offering a script based on a story originally dreamt up by her and him. It’s also directed by Kiwi Gerard Johnstone (look for his horror comedy Housebound on your streamers), and actually shot in New Zealand too, which is why the ‘Seattle’ we see looks so green.

Young Cady (Violet McGraw, whose sister Madeliene was in last year’s The Black Phone) is orphaned after a car accident and is sent to live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams from Get Out), a roboticist who’s working hard to meet deadlines imposed by her cruel boss David Lin (actor/comedian Ronny Chieng), head of ‘Funki’. Finding it difficult to bond with the traumatised Cady, Gemma starts to develop a four-foot-tall doll named M3GAN (‘Model 3 Generative Android’), partially to please Lin and partially because she needs someone – anyone – to take care of the kid.

And, like all those unethical scientists in sci-fi/horror tales since the beginning of the movies, Gemma’s ambition gets the better of her, and she fails to give the thing the necessary social conditioners and something like a conscience, which means that M3GAN shows signs of being a right little cybernetic psychopath right from the get-go. Come on! Hasn’t Gemma seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Colossus: The Forbin Project, or Ex Machina? Or maybe at least one version of, you know, Frankenstein???

M3GAN (usually played by Amie Donald, and vocalised by Jenna Davis) is ‘paired’ with Cady and the kid is delighted, and she becomes dangerously close to the soulless contraption. And why wouldn’t she? M3GAN can help with any problem, is always free to read Alice In Wonderland in silly voices, and even sings Sia and David Guetta’s Titanium. ‘She’ starts killing anyone who threatens or upsets Cady as well, but hey, you can’t have everything.

(And horror fans should know that this M Rated – or PG-13 in the US – epic is notably restrained in the gore department, although you can easily see where the stabbings, crushings and flesh-meltings would have originally fitted.)

Unlike, say, ‘Number 5’ in those embarrassing Short Circuit outings, or Robocop, or David and Gigolo Joe in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nice Terminators after the first film, we’re not asked to sympathise with M3GAN in any way. Instead, Johnstone, Cooper and Wan revel in how cool and scary ‘she’ is, and what an improbably great athlete and dancer ‘she’ is too.

And that’s fine, but it’s one of the reasons why this isn’t as frightening as last year’s Smile or Barbarian, and why, ultimately, M3GAN is, in the end, a bag of bolts.

M3GAN (M) is showing at cinemas now.

6 out of 10 STARS

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