What a gratifying hoot! Comedy-horror “M3GAN,” whose parentage includes two prolific horror producers, franchise mogul James Wan and Blumhouse majordomo Jason Blum, is the sort of unpretentious genre goodie that studios (and their partner movie theaters) ought to be releasing several times a month instead of just cowering behind epic-budgeted blunderbusses every few weeks. (“M3GAN,” though, is itself prime franchise material.)
As composed by “Malignant” scribes Wan and Akela Cooper, “M3GAN” stands as fast-paced pop and crackerjack post-drive-in pulp. “M3GAN” sells itself in its first handful of seconds in how it introduces the handiwork of roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams, “Get Out”) and her present product, PurrPetual Petz from Funki. Boom. Then another couple of minutes, we’re effortlessly given the movie’s themes about the dangers of seemingly sentient playthings and also witness tragic events that set the story in motion: young Cady (Violet McGraw, “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Doctor Sleep”) is abruptly orphaned. It’s all part of a quick, adroit passage of contemporary screenwriting clockwork.
Gemma has a prototype project in the basement, and with Cady in her care and a deadline upon her—her boss “is going to shit blood if I ask for more days off”—she realizes the robot, M3GAN, can bond with Cady, even if just for a few days. The Frankenstein myth is right there as the mother of all content; the robot doll, the “Model 3 Generative Android,” is ready to wreak havoc with the responsibilities of caregiving as well as creation. “M3GAN,” resembling a scrunched-down Elizabeth Olson, is a prehensile Terminator almost at Chucky’s modest size in a deceptively demure package, who takes instructions literally and grows grudges along the lines of “Ex Machina”‘s Ava. (The stone-eyed maleficence of “The Bad Seed” is there if you want it, too.) Plus: “It’s the rare occasion where an ‘uncanny valley’ look actually adds to M3GAN’s creepiness,” Wan says in the press notes.
With slick surfaces and simmering subtext, sardonic japes like anticipating the reaction to another toy being a “shit tsunami“ and the joy of anticipating “the moment when we kick Hasbro in the dick,” “M3GAN” has its own sweetly weird lilt. There are all kinds of unexpected notions such as M3GAN riffing little songs about the events around it, including blurts of self-awareness like “I… Ammm.. Ti… tanium!”
“There is a perception that I make those kinds of films,” says Wan of killer-doll movies. “Strangely enough, none of my dolls kill anyone! They are a conduit for a supernatural entity or a demonic force that lives within. For example, in the case of ‘Saw,’ Jigsaw has a puppet that he talks through as a mouthpiece.” But “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a killer-doll movie that was ‘Annabelle’ meets ‘The Terminator’? Instead of being a supernatural film, we thought it would be great to do a ‘technology gone awry’ version of that.” It certainly would!
“M3GAN” is now playing in theaters.