If you're a parent, odds are your kid has at least one toy that aims to replicate a person or an animal. For Christmas, my 4-year-old got a Little Live Pets pig that walks around, snorts, and sniffs your hand if you hold it in front of its nose. Children love toys like that. Adults, meanwhile, can find them just a tiny bit creepy. Playthings are becoming more and more lifelike, maybe too much so. M3GAN plays on that idea, taking it to the extreme. It's an over-the-top horror movie with a very down-to-earth point.
Nine-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a freak car accident during the opening scene. She's sent to live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a tech whiz responsible for creating the Furby-like toy that has just swept the nation. The adjustment period isn't easy. Gemma is a workaholic, unequipped to take on the role of guardian. To keep Cady busy while she tries to meet a deadline, she gives the child access to her newest invention. M3GAN – Model 3 Generative Android – is a next-level robot that looks like a real girl for the most part and is capable of learning from its user. Gemma pairs Cady with M3GAN, leading to a tight bond. Things go so well between them that she exploits her niece, using her to sell her boss, David (Ronny Chieng), on the potential lucrativeness of the toy. M3GAN, however, bonds tighter to Cady than expected. Whenever anyone upsets or threatens the girl, the robot unleashes a violent side.
M3GAN is a horror movie that aims to hit on three different levels simultaneously, and succeeds. At one level, it's a satire of technology. The title character's human-like appearance and actions are occasionally played for laughs, and there's a hilarious spoof of TV toy commercials that opens the film. At a deeper level, it has a desire to make an intelligent point. The story delves into the hazards of a society where everyone is more invested in their devices than in interacting with their loved ones. Gemma lets Cady have M3GAN so she can focus on her job, but M3GAN, for all her realism, can't help the girl truly cope with grief. Even with the exaggerated premise, the film has a brain in its head.
The third level, of course, is to be creepy. What's pleasing about the film is that it's not obvious what M3GAN will do. From the way she moves to the manner in which she dispatches her enemies, the surprises are constant. Director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) stages the violence creatively, catching us off-guard and pushing the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. He also nicely mixes in a touch of that humor at times, so as to make the killings eerier because we don't know whether to giggle or gasp.
I'm not entirely sure how M3GAN was achieved. She's definitely not a total CGI creation, nor does she appear to be a human in a mask. Puppetry was certainly involved, although puppets can't be made to dance or run as she does. However the FX team did it, and it was probably a combination of techniques, the effect is absolutely convincing. We believe that the robot is really existing alongside the humans. She has a personality, as well. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw give exceptional performances that add to the impact. Acting opposite something that isn't alive is a challenge, and the actresses allow us to accept the artificial girl as a legitimate entity.
The Most Valuable Player award here has to go to writer Akela Cooper (Malignant), who penned a screenplay that's bold, witty, and substantive. Most importantly, it's fun, too. She's a fresh voice, with original ideas. Good movies always start with good scripts. Her script for M3GAN provided the material for everyone else to do their best work. Collectively, they've turned in a movie that provides awesomely crazy entertainment from top to bottom.
out of four
M3GAN is rated PG-13 for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.