"KEEP BUSTIN'."

M3GAN

M3GAN is a nice little treat – a killer doll/robot movie with a solid execution of the premise, a good sense of humor, and plenty of personality. And as a Blumhouse/Atomic Monster production it’s got a decent budget, so the effects are excellent. It’s a similar idea to the okay-not-great CHILD’S PLAY so-called-remake (out-of-control AI, no supernatural evil) but the way they made their doll look and behave is creepy and delightful in a fun new way.

Gemma (Allison Williams, THE PERFECTION) is the adult in the situation, and part of the joke is that she’s not a responsible one. When her niece Cady (Violet McGraw, DOCTOR SLEEP, The Haunting of Hill House) loses both parents in a car wreck, Gemma steps up to become her temporary guardian, but is too occupied by her job at a toy company to pay close attention to her.

A gifted roboticist, Gemma got in bad with her boss David (Ronny Chieng, GODZILLA VS. KONG) by surreptitiously blowing a bunch of money on the M3gan (Model 3 Generative Android) project, a life-sized robotic little girl designed to “pair” with its owner, use A.I. to learn and perform tasks from reading bedtime stories to teaching science. Now that’s cancelled and she’s back working on dumb old Furbie-like Perpetual Petz (designed to make wiseass comments, fart and poop little pellets while the kid plays related games on the internet).

I respect Williams’ willingness to play characters that make her look bad. None of them could be as hard to live down as her white-girlfriend-from-Hell in GET OUT, but it’s surprising how far and how straight-faced they go with making Gemma terrible at taking care of a kid. She makes only half-assed attempts to relate to her niece, and tells her she can’t play with the toys she has on display because “Those aren’t toys – I know they look like it, but they’re collectables.” When she tries to occupy the kid with an iPad Cady asks “What about screen time?,” since her parents limited hers. Gemma has no clue what she’s talking about at first.

“Oh – I don’t care,” she says.

When Gemma does come up with an idea that seems to cheer up Cady, it conveniently revives the M3gan project. On a playroom stage viewable through a one-way mirror, Cady meets and befriends the M3gan doll, and the results are so impressive that David allows Gemma to bring the doll home to further bond with Cady, improving the programming before a demo for the board.

Though M3gan seems like a friend, a way to socialize, she’s kind of the same thing as the iPad – a technological distraction to keep the kid out of the way. She plays with Cady, tucks her in, sings her lullabies worthy of a musical number in a DTV Barbie movie. She does so much that Cady’s psychiatrist Lydia (Amy Usherwood, LADIES IN BLACK) and Gemma’s co-workers Tess (Jen Van Epps) and Cole (Brian Jordan Alvarez) overly-politely nudge her to do more parenting herself. It’s cool that machines can do tasks for us but there’s a difference between using a Rumba so you don’t have to vacuum and using a M3gan so you don’t have to spend time with your grieving orphan niece.

Also, of course, the machine will become dangerous, techno-horror merged with the sort of suburban domestic horror we got in the STEPFATHER sequels. Being programmed to protect Cady causes M3gan to have violent disputes with the next door neighbor Celia (Lori Dungey, various Power Rangers shows) and her dog, a teenage bully (Jack Cassidy), etc. The bully, Brandon, is the exact right kind of arrogant prick that you want to see get his ear torn off by an evil robot doll, but I like that Celia goes against type for the nosy neighbor. She’s kind of clueless and has a gross hoarder house but she seems well intentioned, Gemma is needlessly mean to her, and M3gan murders her dog! So it’s got this discomfort to it because it’s funny to see how M3gan goes cyber-medieval on her, but she absolutely doesn’t deserve it, even by horror movie rules.

Like with some of the Chucky movies, a big part of the joy is just watching M3gan move around like she’s alive. I mostly couldn’t tell how they did it. A few stunts look like a costumed actor, but they definitely had real animatronics, and I’ve also read child actress Amie Donald (Sweet Tooth) portrays her movements, with Weta digitally turning her into the doll, however that works. The voice is cartoon actress Jenna Davis, with a perfect Barbie-like tone and occasional tinges of autotune.

It’s a brilliant weaponization of the uncanny valley, giving her strikingly realistic eyes that do not connect like a living human’s. Her makeup, prissy outfits, confident walk and fashionable sunglasses really capture the type of precocious glam-girl fantasy often marketed to little girls. She looks so artificial and yet so real, and then you have her go haywire looking like that and it’s pure entertainment.

M3GAN is ORPHAN plus Chucky plus Skynet. She can mimic voices like the T-1000 and hack into your Siri via wi-fi. As a machine she not only lacks an understanding of morals, but of normal human behavior. So sometimes she’ll do strange things like run on all fours or (already famous from the trailer) do a dance while stalking somebody with the blade from a paper cutter (homage to EXIT WOUNDS). If they hadn’t put that in the trailer I guess the movie wouldn’t have been as big of a hit, but I bet the laughs and cheers would’ve lasted into the next scene. Another bizarre moment is when she effortlessly plays Martika’s “Tin Soldiers” on piano while making a threatening speech.

She can do anything. I’m sure she has every bomb-making blueprint and military strategy known to man at her disposal. She could teach herself knife fighting techniques, engine repair, or surgery. She could hack people’s bank accounts to buy a helicopter and then teach herself to pilot it. She could 3D print herself screen-accurate POLAR EXPRESS costumes and steal Tom Hanks’ motion capture data to re-enact the entire movie to scare people. The sequel possibilities are endless.

The filmatists clearly understand that as in any TERMINATOR movie and most Chuckys you gotta give your robot/doll a cool looking battle damaged stage. After that she gets wrecked all the way down to the basic machinery, almost like a Daft Punk stage. But she’s a program, not a body, so she could come back in almost any form. I’m betting she’ll upload herself into the knockoff doll teased in the industrial espionage subplot.

I’ve seen complaints that the movie holds back on violence. I don’t know if the people saying that got it in their heads because they read that there was a gorier version that was cut to PG-13. Yeah, I’m sure I’d have even more fun if she was ripping people’s faces off or whatever, but nothing seemed lacking while watching it. It works for me. Good audience movie, too, if you’re able to see it in a theater, or with friends when it comes out on video. Sometimes we need to come together to share some laughs over a doll murdering people. Otherwise how do we grow as a society?

M3GAN is directed by Gerard Johnstone of New Zealand, who did the 2014 movie HOUSEBOUND that I know people like, and it’s produced by James DEATH SENTENCE Wan. The screenwriter is Akela Cooper, who also did MALIGNANT and HELL FEST, so I’m a fan. Like MALIGNANT, this takes place in Seattle (I don’t think it’s mentioned, but the city is shown in a handful of second unit shots, and they have Washington license plates), which is odd because Cooper is from Missouri and doesn’t have any connections to Seattle that I’ve been able to find. Anyway I hope M3gan and Gabriel recuperate together in Underground Seattle until their hopeful sequels.

P.S.

(NON-MONUMENTAL ENDING SPOILER NOTE) I assumed and waited for Gemma to use her first robot Bruce to finish off M3gan in a Ripley’s-powerloader type moment – and would’ve been disappointed if it hadn’t happened – so it was a nice surprise that it was Cady who got to do it. She deserved the win more than her dumb aunt. By the way, it’s noted that Bruce even has the ability to smell. There could’ve been a part where he smells gas and saves them from an explosion, but it turns out it’s not foreshadowing, it’s just character color, like Rambo’s ability to eat things that would make a billygoat puke.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 12th, 2023 at 11:36 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “M3GAN”

  1. I will definitely check it out, because the trailer looked like fun and most people seem to agree that it is indeed fun, so please don’t take it as too much of a complaint, but sheesh, do I hate the look of the doll. I just wanna see one horror movie doll that doesn’t already look like it’s designed to be evil.

    Lori Dungey is really cool, by the way. A few years ago she appeared at a German fantasy convention (She also had a role in the extended version of one of the LOTRs) and was so beloved by everybody, that she not just got re-invited again and again, but is also now working there as the official host of these things.

  2. I wish I could be reprogrammed beause as it stands I”m clearly the only person who has no idea why people think the execution of the movie was good. There are some good things so it’s not like a bad movie but nobody acts like a person in this movie. The therapist character is an asshole for zero reasons. Alison Williams doesn’t know how to open a box. The car accident in the beginning was unintentionally funny because of just how fucking stupid her parents are. So by the time Megan comes around I’m already taken out of this movie. And then Megan does a bunch of things that are kinda fun but also is not how any of this works sort of way. I’m going to give the writer a mulligan on this one because Malignant and Hell Fest are great and everybody seems to like this one for some reason.

    Anyway, back to lurking.

  3. I didn’t know this was from the guy who did Housebound, I’m a fan of that one. It’s a lot of fun.

  4. I think the issue is that you’re seeing that as a mistake instead of as one of the ways the movie is entertaining. I took the box opening as Gemma making a big scene out of having to destroy the mint-in-box status of the toy, but your interpretation that she doesn’t know how to do it is funnier. There are few characters in MALIGNANT who don’t act bizarrely, so you definitely have it in you to enjoy that approach, it just didn’t work for you on this one.

  5. But it is also a symptom of 2022 where all these horror movies had people losing their shit over that I thought were just ok so I might just not like horror movies anymore.

    Still gonna see if Skinamarink can make me have the goosebumps.

  6. The trailer for Skinamarink looked intriguing and it was like oh very mysterious, so I watched some of one of his shorts…I think the trailer is going to be the entire content of the movie. Just shots of halls and walls.

  7. The fact that they were open about it being cut down to a PG-13 immediately kills any possibility of wasting my time/money going to the theatre for this. I’ll wait for the unrated cut. I also love how the director/writer at first is like “no, it’s better cut down, even more disturbing”, and now that people are bummed it was cut down he/she’s like “oh we definitely have a bunch of gore we were forced to cut and we’re excited to add it back in for the unrated cut and it’s in the works”. Which is it? Is the movie better, or is the movie neutered?

  8. That supports my suspicion that if nothing had been said about it having a different version nobody would notice or have a problem with it. But because it was reported on it becomes a thing to worry about. Did anybody regret seeing DRAG ME TO HELL in the theater after they found out it was slimier and showed the cat getting killed on video? If so I feel comfortable calling that person a big ol’ silly head.

  9. Hold up – they changed it to show the cat get killed? Sounds like that would ruin the movie’s best moment for me – a brilliant sight gag with impeccable comic timing. Unless they replaced it with something equally as good, which, well, it is Raimi, so I guess it’s possible.

    As for M3GAN, if the director’s flip-flopping like that it is kind of lame, but I’m all for watching it on theaters; Had my fill of gory robotic mayhem as recently as CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS anyhow. Hoping to watch it this weekend, and if it’s good enough I’ll watch the full-fat (and -sinew, and -bone, and -fluids) version further down the line.

  10. That’s how I feel – the extra shot destroys the joke (though I guess not the shock). If I remember right, it doesn’t show anything graphic but has her stabbing down and some blood splattering instead of communicating what she did through an edit.

    Otherwise the unrated version uses the same shots digitally gooped up, which is an improvement, but it was already great in PG-13 form.

  11. Yeah, the cat murder in DMTH might be one of the most unpopular changes in not-Star-Wars movie history. Some hate it because they hate to see cats die (understandable), some hate it because it ruins the dark joke, some hate it for both reasons, but I never heard anybody say “Aww yeah, I prefer the unrated version, because if you murder a cat in a horror movie, you better show that shit!”

    That said: On the “Horror must be at least rated R” discussion, I’m on the “No, it doesn’t have to be” side. I’m definitely not one of those “Nothing is scarier than your own imagination” wimps*, but if your enjoyment of a horror movie depends on how graphically you see people die, the movie might not be that good to begin with.

    Not to mention how bloody does a movie have to be? Back in the 80s and 90s, the FRIDAY THE 13th and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies were basically considered the most hardcore shit at the box office and sent ratings boards all over the world into a censorship frenzy. Now most of these things are tamer than certain episodes of SUPERNATURAL or CRIMINAL MINDS.

    *Although I agree a little, but not in the “A bump in the night is scarier than a graphic disembowelment” way. Showing a close up of a knive entering an eyeball does scary things to your imagination too.

  12. I enjoyed this a lot. I’d definitely define it more as comedy-horror than horror-comedy, but I think it has to be to work with how farfetched things were. I was also surprised at what was in it for it’s rating (though over here it’s a 15, and fits) like the ear thing, though a couple if things could have gone further, such as the neighbour’s death, which was what, by acid? Not entirely clear on that chemical use. Dunno if I agree about wanting Brandon to get what happens to him. For one, he’s just a kid who’s mainly a jerk and wants to break a toy. For another, the movie kinda sets him up as troubled, with that school being implied as being for kids with social issues, so it feels a bit mean spirited to just write him off as deserving of his fate.
    It was kinda weird the movie doesn’t more explicitly set up a sequel. The thing with the PA seemed like foreshadowing, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Though if a sequel was made, I would be kinda incredulous if Gemma wasn’t held as liable for multiple deaths.

  13. I should clarify, I do not think mean kids should get their ears ripped off by robot dolls in real life. I just mean they make him a little shitbag so it will be funnier in a fictional movie. But I get what you’re saying, that’s kind of how I felt about the neighbor, so you are probly reacting how they want you to.

    As for the sequel SPOILER don’t you think her off-brand Siri thing lighting up was enough? Clearly M3gan’s consciousness is still in the house. They don’t need to box themselves in with more specifics.

  14. She could 3D print herself screen-accurate POLAR EXPRESS costumes and steal Tom Hanks’ motion capture data to re-enact the entire movie to scare people.

    dude. bro

  15. Vern- I did see that and think of that with the final shot, but it also seemed like her files being sold to the competitor like you said in the main review was a much more obvious route to go. I actually sat through the credits longer than I normally would do, half expecting a fake ad for the knockoff version of M3GAN to play.

  16. Saw this over the weekend – It’s pretty good!
    It’s got some mild satire and jokes, and is obviously having fun with the formula, but I absolutely didn’t expect it to be such a straight take on a techno thriller; I’d say the PG13 violence fits the genre better than the alternative, but we’ll see when (if?) the bloodier cut comes out.
    Not that I’ll be in a huge hurry to rewatch it any time soon – it felt a bit padded even at 100 minutes, especially that completely unnecessary espionage subplot and its dumb, dumb payoff. Oh well, at least it gave us that dance scene and the glam shot as she hacks and gets into the sports car.

    @Sternshein: About the unboxing… Come on, that’s clearly a joke! The most passive aggressive unboxing ever. She’s even shown opening a box properly earlier with a box cutter (the one the latex faces come in), so I’m going to go ahead and claim that’s the scriptwriters establishing she doesn’t have any box-opening-related disorders as a set-up for that later unboxing.

    ENDING SPOILERS – The rock’em’sock’em robots sequence was superb, but I really expected Gemma to remember that first, disastrous presentation and remove the flux capacitor or whatever it was that made M2gan’s head explode. A screwdriver to the CPU is fine (and it was foreshadowed when Gemma pointed it out on Bruce, which is a nice touch) but a tad unimaginative.

  17. I think it’s most likely going to be a thug where a rival company is making knockoffs and she programs herself into an army of Megans

  18. The best thing to come out of MTHREEAN was Drew Barrymore dressing up as her and leaving (a rather boring) Allison Williams at a loss. Have I watched Ms Barrymore in that clip a few times. Um, no comment. I do NOT have a thing for pretty and weird women in their Forties dressing as murderbots/psychodroiddolls, attempting the four-legged run, pretending she’s malfunctioning, doing the dance, being goofy, and having her contacts go wonky…DEFINITELY not! It was funny to stumble on that clip and find it more entertaining than the cliché ridden slop it’s based on. (P

  19. Ach, I appeared to have had a microseizure that caused me to post too soon. Bugger. Sorry.
    To finish:

    (People go wild for the dance but it points the great flaw of MTHREEAN as a screen character, CGI makes her look *too* unreal. She’s obviously mostly mocapped and not robotic at all, far too fluid. The *notthereness* of much of MTHREEAN’s appearance is a detriment. Of course, most people can’t see it because they are so used to CGI and consider it as “looking real” when it quite obviously doesn’t; even though they would leap on quite a lot of pre-CGI stuff for, ah, “not looking real” as they can’t see beyond their frame of reference. Well, dat’s ma opinyun an’ am stickin’ wit’ it!)

  20. **** another mistake. Just read MTHREEGAN for MTHREEAN. Ha! Whatta mistakea to make-a! Goofy.

  21. George – which parts are obviously mocap?

  22. There’s a little CGI and some post-processing, but most of it is real – either puppets or a crazy talented child actress doing the dance and stunts. The dance scene is mostly real, with a CGI face replacing the actor’s face, for example. All the dialog scenes and mid-distance shots where the robot isn’t moving rapidly are reputedly puppets.

    A bit fluffy, but:

    The CRAZY puppeteering behind making M3GAN | Behind the Scenes

    Head to https://squarespace.com/framevoyager to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain using code framevoyager🔥🔥Behind The Scenes of Cinem...

  23. That character never once looked mocapped…even the scene where it would have been most likely, where she’s running like a dog, was clearly real…maybe assisted by wires but not CG.

    This is why I never take the anti-CG people seriously, they can’t even spot the shit.

  24. There’s some footage on the video above (around the 11-minute mark) of the actress filming the dance with an eyeless silicone mask and it’s already creepy as hell. There’s a lot of talent behind that scene – not just Amy Donald, the kid who does the actual dancing, but the choreography and how it fits with the design of the clothes- they look too bulky for it, and contribute to the whole unreal, too-fluid feel.
    It reminded me a bit of Malignant, where a lot of the seemingly CGI stuff was also achieved practically.

    We might be seeing some M3gans along with the Harleyquinns come next Halloween, and off-brand ‘Megan the doll’ costumes on supermarkets.

  25. Sorry, Vern, I hadn’t looked back until today. I wasn’t being ill-mannered. The dance scene for one, I know people loved that but I love the talent of the actress playing M3gan (Amie – hope I’m spelling though that right) and how great the dance is (but erm she’s pretty young so that might sound skeevy, it isn’t – I pleads! – meant to be, it’s just a really impressive dance) rather than the dance as by M3gan. I just find it hard to suspend disbelief as it’s too fluid. I’m not asking or forcing anyone to agree with me!

    Muh – “(T)hat character never once looked mo-capped.” Never once? I guess we’ll just have agree to disagree, Dolores. I’ll try to stop the anti-CGI people from getting too upset when I see them at our next conference…
    I’m not anti-CGI, I’m just not a fan of the CG “look”, I don’t think that’s a sin. I may be wrong!

  26. If you look at that behind the scenes shit, you see the puppet doing the dialogue scenes, then the girl doing the dance and the chase. What scenes would she need to be mocapped in if a real person did the most difficult stuff I can think of and a puppet did all the close ups? That girl even did the flip.

  27. So, I liked it, which was a pleasant surprise given that nothing in the trailer enticed me in the least, screaming “Chucky Clone!” every way and not being in the age demographic of those who got all excited with a viral Tik Tok spawned off a 30 second scene from the film.

    M3GAN was both entertaining and goofy with a nice pointed slice of social commentary sandwiched in between. I like the point it makes that when you hoist increasingly sophisticated gadgets on your child to keep them occupied on the one hand, but then also absolve you of those “tiresomely rote” things parents need to do (like repeat, for the 2000th time…”Flush that toilet! Brush your teeth!”) on the other, don’t get overly surprised when at some point, said parent is effectively replaced or deemed less relevant to their lives by the child.

    But it’s also nice that none of this stuff gets in the way of why you even watch these flicks which is to see the myriad creative ways a doll gone berserk can inflict damage on hapless fools who stand in their way. Didn’t quite mind the PG-13 rating but would also equally not quibble with an unrated cut (closer and lingering shots of Brandon’s ears getting ripped off, fuck yeah!)

    M3GAN is proof that when you’re dealing with predictable material, the key is not to reinvent the formula entirely but to tweak it enough to make it interesting.

  28. M3GAN is also, like AVATAR2, one of those films that doesn’t bear introspecting about for anything longer than 5 minutes, after which giant gaping holes in the narrative start to appear and mess with you.

    Like, this has been commented on by far more articulate people than me, but….why in the name of all that’s Holy, would you make a smart doll that’s also STRONG.AS.FUCK????

    You’re marketing a product that aims to bond with a child (a rich child given the 10K price tag), so the inherent danger of a toy that possesses enough strength to kill a ferocious canine AND a fairly large human being and rip the ears clean off a boy is deemed…LOW RISK?

    Like, a glitch in the programming could well have M3GAN rip off Cady’s lower jaw, when she forgets to flush the toilet for the 5th time? (Jesus Cady, how many times do I have to tell you I don’t want to see your floating turds first thing in the morning you dumb bitch?)

    M3GAN isn’t a doll, she’s a 4 feet tall Terminatrix.

  29. Yeah the movie was a lot more interesting than it looked. I actually was even more into it before they went into killer robot territory, he just being kind of unsettling and the drama with the kid was really good.

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