akela cooper, allison williams, blumhouse, blumhouse productions, gerard johnstone, James Wan, M3gan, ronnie chieng, violet mcgraw
It’s been an interesting time for Hollywood horror films.
And by that we mean scary films with proper studio backing, budget, and distribution.
The first two immediate examples being Smileand Barbarian, their financial success matching (if not exceeding) their critical praise. And whilst 2 such films is nicely eyebrow raising, a 3rd means when we start compiling our “Top 10 horror films of the past 12 months” we won’t be scratching our heads as we lament it has been a “thin season”.
And that’s thanks – in part – to M3gan.
When the trailer first came out, it looked very Hollywood generic. But here’s the thing with the age in which we live. On reddit chats and the like, there are countless examples of Influencers scamming their way through life, expecting free products and services in exchange for “exposure bucks”.
But the extra kick in the balls about all that is, exposure – the right kind and the right amount – does have power.
And in the case of M3gan, it was a simple TikTok video of the robot doll in question doing a murder dance. People LOVED it. Then they copied it. And then they meme’d it.
And bam, just like that M3gan entered the mainstream consciousness. Even before the movie came out, people were noticing the one thing other people (ie: people familiar with the uncanny valley and/or Real Doll enthusiasts) have known for years. And that is, lifelike dolls are creepy AF.
Which is interesting, because as a sub-genre, Doll Horror, isn’t that well regarded here at Surgeons
Mainly because the dolls are usually possessed (which is always a bit hokey) and smaller than your average human. And they may look unsettling (Anabelle) but for the most part they are cartoonishly ridiculous (Chucky) with their kills often played for laughs.
In fact, in recent memory the last good Doll Horror was The Boy, and that was twisty in that (spoiler alert) the doll in question was just an actual doll and nothing more. And lord knows there’s been plenty of robots in movies where said robot can kill because it has a circular saw attachment, or shoots lasers or sum such. But an android with superhuman strength (why do they always make these things so much stronger than us? They just need to be physically strong enough to mimic humans in the real world, why give them the power to tear a baby’s head off!?) and has the complexion of a sex doll? That’s new.
Mainly because “realistic” androids in movies and tv shows are usually portrayed by real people with (sometimes) slightly pale make up. So the unsettling/creep factor with M3gan is strong, but that alone a movie doesn’t make.
Is it any good?
Well two words, Chekhov’s Gun. But to explain what that is, and a whole lot more, with his take on the movie, here’s Chris Dawes…
Ah yes, Chekov’s Gun – the age-old theatrical trope that if a prop (in this case, an incomplete boxing robot) is mentioned in the first half of a story, it must be integral to the story’s final moments (and everybody was bot-fu fightiiiing…).
So all in all, is this a movie worth watching? Absolutely. Great dialogue, tight plotting, with enough gore and laughs to be both light and dark in all the right places. A solid night’s entertainment and well worth the price of cinema admission.
However, my criticism is this (AND MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD).
In the back of the film, M3GAN doesn’t so much turn on her creators as go full moustache twirling bond villain. Which, don’t get me wrong, makes for some hilariously snarky lines, but it is a very jarring character transition for a robot that was to this point, fairly HAL-like in the build up to her evilness. And I am pretty sure the reason for this dramatic shift is because James Wan and Co. accidentally made the bad guy way too sympathetic compakela ared to everyone else in the opening half of the film. Because here’s the thing – EVERY ADULT IN THIS MOVIE ABSOLUTELY FRACKING SUCKS, ESPECIALLY
THE PROTAGONIST. Gemma (played quite masterfully by Allison Williams) is an emotionally repressed, myopic computer
nerd who, despite showing no desire for any kind of family life, inexplicably demands that her recently orphaned niece (the child of her estranged sister) stay with her instead of her grandparents; makes no accommodations to her living situation to fit her niece in, neglects her while she goes through the worst possible kind of trauma, and only starts to see her as worth paying attention to
when it’s clear she can serve as an in-house focus group for M3GAN’s (a children’s toy designed with the combat prowess of John Wick, mind you) commercial prospects.
Off the back of that, once she makes the classic psycho-robot programming error of giving orders with ambiguous parameters (ie: protect the niece from all forms of physical and emotional harm) you absolutely understand why M3GAN goes the full death machine on the raging band of jerk-offs that are Gemma and her employers at the Funki Toy Company. Frankly, you are cheering her on. But that of course would make M3GAN’s inevitable defeat (or is it? DUN DUN DUUUUUUN!!!) unsatisfying for a popcorn picture vibe (The bad guy can’t be the good guy! What is this, a European film???).
So M3GAN, who is to this point the only character who has shown the niece any kind of emotional support (in a gut-punch of a scene that got some genuine sniffles out of the audience), suddenly becomes Chucky, and it took me out of it a bit.
Having said that, it’s still a hell of a ride. And Chekov’s boxing bot is kickass!
And now back to Ant Yee for the prognosis…
M3gan is a fun film. For horror buffs it’s not at all scary or gory, and as a hook, the premise and descent (into “madness”) of the titular character isn’t all that original. But it works and is very enjoyable, and a lot of that is thanks to the remarkable performance of the 2 actors Amie Donald (body) and Jenna Davis (voice) who bring her to life. That and the animatronics and the design work
that went into her. That was a home run too. Worth a short victory dance in fact.
i NB: In no way does M3gan actually resemble a sex doll – apart from being made up of the same weird rubbery silicon skin. (Surgeons of Horror legal disclaimer fulfilled).
- Antony Yee and Chris Dawes