M3GAN (2022) Directed by Gerard Johnstone
Since classical and contemporary times science fiction literature, and most prominently the overwhelming advances in 21st century technology, have unveiled the collective fascination we humans have with anthropomorphizing machines. As a clichéd concept, M3GAN internalizes this commonality in a very nimble and self-assured manner; perhaps that’s exactly why it succeeds, and most importantly, productively entertains, with its unimaginably schlocky narrative. Cheekily, M3GAN, self-consciously directed by Gerard Johnstone, makes proficient use of its recycled ideas to articulate a reinterpretation of the most implausible subgenre of horror cinema, namely that of living dolls unleashing hell. Evidently, here the formula mutates into something postmodernist and persuasive; it not only diversifies itself with a camp aesthetic but puts its farcical sensibilities to optimum use. Nevertheless, this is nothing groundbreaking, just a riotous hodgepodge of narratives already explored ad nauseam in the present and in the illustrious past.
It all sounds delightful and entertaining as a horror film conscious of its hilarity and gimmickry. However, M3GAN aims to be something more, an ambitious horror film, though disappointingly it doesn’t do enough to be able to label it as such. M3GAN’s distant sibling first introduced on film in 1988’s Child’s Play, shares much of its bastard sister’s bloodthirsty ferocity. The influences are blatantly clear in this film, and the screenplay nakedly makes exaggerated use of rusty mechanisms that ultimately don’t quite work, though at least it leaves some subtle traces of enviable originality.
Akela Cooper writes the deliberately ludicrous screenplay for M3GAN, about a brilliant robotic engineer named Gemma, played by Allison Williams, who works for a toy company that utilizes artificial intelligence to design innovative toys for children. Gemma becomes the legal guardian of her niece Cady, after Cady’s parents died in a devastating car accident. The alienated and mopey Cady, played by Violet McGraw, does not connect emotionally with her aunt but she does connect with her technological creations, in particular she develops a dependent, friendly rapport with her masterpiece, a generative android model 3 called M3GAN, which is supposed to emulate a human girl the same age as Cady. Gemma seeing the positive effects generated in her niece by interacting with this “harmless” hyper-realistic doll, decides to propose it as a new project to be sold as a toy in the company she works for.
Naturally, as expected, everything that was supposed to go right with this robotic creation goes dreadfully, awfully wrong. Between the cheesiness of the family drama and the suspense of this unpredictable doll with a possessive personality, the plot progresses at an exceedingly glacial pace leaving tedious moments of superfluity. Within the redundancy, one can observe a myriad of attempts to make this quotidian b-movie plot an insightful collection of allusions to our contemporaneity. Not all of them manifest anything we don’t already know but overall the sole desire to be something more than a dorky horror flick gave me a genuine sense that I was watching more of a satire on the human relationship with technology than a movie about a murderous living doll. A diatribe against the vicious and harmful use of technological gadgets in our lives, which today are omnipresent. One more truism to join the long line of films that have made the same critique. Yet, there is a well-planned scheme here, as from that caustic energy emerges a series of subtexts that reference a criticism of rapacious consumerism as well. And the coolest thing about these features is that they are made with a premeditated cartoonish snark.
The performances are heterogeneous, between the hyperbolic and the modest, but they fulfill their function. But inescapably, the one that steals all the attention is the fabulous M3GAN, her style is lethal and indomitable, a design reminiscent of the golden years of animatronics and artisanal effects; although polished with CGI, her face and robotic agility position her as one of the new icons of modern horror cinema. Sooner or later, sequels will proliferate as slasher film tradition suggests. Eventually, it will lose the mystique or perhaps it will endure, but what remains nuanced despite its inherent clumsy flaws as a generic horror film is that M3GAN is awesome.