From the evil ventriloquist dummies of Devil Doll and Magic to the Puppetmaster franchise to Teddy from The Pit and most famous of all, Chucky, there’s no shortage of them. Now Akela Cooper (Malignant, Hell Fest) and James Wan who’s no stranger to this genre after Annabelle and Dead Silence have added AI into the equation to create the Model 3 Generative Android, M3GAN to her friends.
Gemma (Allison Williams, Horizon Line, Get Out). works for the massive toy-making empire known as FUNKi. Supposedly working on a new version of a popular pooping pet doll she and her team have a secret. They’ve been working on an intelligent robotic playmate for children something their budget-conscious boss David (Ronny Chieng, Godzilla vs. Kong, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) is not happy about when he discovers it.
In the midst of all this her niece Cady (Violet McGraw, The Haunting of Hill House, Black Widow) is orphaned in a car accident and comes to stay with her Aunt Gemma who, apart from being under pressure at work, has no idea how to be a parent. This leads her to resurrect M3GAN, played by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis (Treehouse Detectives, Vampirina), as a friend for Cady. And when David sees the two of them together that leads to his deciding to make the robotic playmate the company’s new flagship item.
And we all know that won’t end well.
Director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound, The New Legends of Monkey) wisely approached M3GAN with its PG-13 rating and female-dominated cast as something other than a gender-switched Child’s Play. Granted he may not have initially approached it that differently as reshoots were needed to avoid an R rating. Hopefully, there will be a restored version on the Blu-ray.
At the center of M3GAN is the concept of bonding. Both between Cady and Gemma who struggles to function as a parent and between Cady and M3GAN who is programmed to bond with her to become friend and protector. Both situations have major flaws and of course, that, especially the protector part, is where the trouble begins.
Of course, at least some of that trouble is the result of the kind of plot devices these films should be well past by now. Poor programming that leaves a hyper-strong robot without some essential limits and overrides for example. And, given real-life examples of what happened to AIs that were exposed to cyberspace, why would they let it have unrestricted access to the internet?
Given that it’s no surprise when the doll reveals its dark side and turns into what Wan refers to as “Annabelle crossed with The Terminator”. And that is why we’re watching M3GAN in the first place, right? Of course, it is, and once we get there M3GAN actually delivers quite a bit of entertainment value.
Both as you cheer her dealing out some well-deserved karma to the junior psycho at a school event or the neighbour who looks suspiciously like Anne Ramsey in Deadly Friend. Sadly a basketball is not involved in her demise. And then as Gemma’s suspicions about her creation are aroused and the film’s less deserving characters become her targets there are some well-constructed, and suspenseful scenes.
Adding to that is the actual appearance of M3GAN herself. She looks convincingly human for the most part. But her cold, Children of the Damned eyes and the not quite right texture of her face give her away at close range. She’s not the obviously non-human robot seen in many films, nor a perfect copy as in Terminator. It’s just close enough to be unsettling.
It’s nothing game-changing, and plotwise it’s fairly predictable. But it is done well and with a considerable amount of talent. Plus, the film’s target audience isn’t the hardcore horror crowd who will be as familiar with these tropes, so it may hold some surprises for them. Myself, I wasn’t surprised, but I was entertained, which is more than I expected.