REVIEW | Have you met M3gan? New comedy horror is a witty commentary on our AI-saturated culture

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M3gan and Cady (Violet McGraw).
M3gan and Cady (Violet McGraw).
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M3gan is a marvel of artificial intelligence, a lifelike doll programmed to be a child's greatest companion and a parent's greatest ally. Designed by Gemma, a brilliant roboticist, M3gan can listen, watch and learn as it plays the role of friend and teacher, playmate and protector. When Gemma becomes the unexpected caretaker of her 8-year-old niece, she decides to give the girl a M3gan prototype, a decision that leads to unimaginable consequences.

Evil dolls have been a cornerstone of horror since the beginning of the film industry, from vengeful ventriloquist dummies to children's play dolls harbouring nefarious spirits. The most famous is that of Chucky, who has seen many incarnations since his first appearance in Child's Play. In the 2019 remake, instead of harbouring a serial killer's soul, Chucky is a high-tech doll whose code has been tampered with, causing mayhem and destruction. While murderous robots are nothing new, combining the two tropes highlights the merging of technology with children's playtime, and M3gan has TikTokked her way onto the scene to challenge Chucky's reign as the supreme killer doll.

A doll for the generation of social media and internet-saturated culture, M3gan is the toy to replace all toys - responsive to a child's immediate needs, an instant playmate that's always around and one that can come up with infinite ways to entertain. She's as cool as can be, but she throws a spotlight on parents' reliance on technology to help raise their children and the psychological impact this might have on their young minds.

In the film, she's the pet project of toymaker Gemma, who is suddenly thrown into parenthood when her sister and brother-in-law die, leaving their only daughter Cady behind in Gemma's care. Not knowing how to connect with her, she tests M3gan on her, which forms an unbreakable bond that turns deadly.

Both funny and terrifying at the same time, M3gan is not quite as scary as one might expect from Blumhouse Productions, but their aim was a PG-13 rating (in the US - SA is stricter), and they had to do reshoots because the first cut was 'too violent' and had an R rating. While I would prefer something like that in this genre, I understand where the studio is coming from due to M3gan's viral popularity and appeal to younger teens.

Overall, there's a youthfulness in the film that's not prevalent in the horror genre, and the writers toe a fine line between the doll's witty modern dialect and it coming off as 'adults-trying-to-speak-teenager'. They pull it off spectacularly, though, and still create a creeptastic doll with a face that hits the uncanny valley at just the right angle. Another genius stroke in making M3gan work was casting 12-year-old dancer Amie Donald instead of just using a short adult for the physical performance, while the doll was voiced by teenager Jenna Davis to give her maturity. Donald's movements - enhanced by CGI - and body frame were extremely convincing, appearing friendly and engaging at first until she becomes slowly creepier and scarier, yet holds enough camp to enhance the more humorous parts of the film. 

M3gan might be a comedy-horror, but it also takes a deep dive into psychological theory, specifically attachment theory, when it comes to children who experience trauma. The AI doll becomes not only a friend to Cady but also a replacement carer that causes her to spin into an addictive spiral - much like anyone who suddenly can't find their phone. The film has a lot to say about how technology has warped our interactions with the world around us, and the film takes this down an interesting route you don't expect to see.

An unexpected blockbuster hit, M3gan is a cult movie in the making, with sequels already spied on the horizon. Outside of its thematic values, it also offers a masterclass in film marketing, similar to the juggernaut that was Smile. Even before the film's release, M3gan cultivated her sassy persona online in a Twitter war with the OG himself - Chucky - that had fans in stitches and excited to see the film in cinemas. And luckily - it lived up to its own hype.

Where to watch: Now showing in cinema

Cast: Allison Williams, Jenna Davis, Violet McGraw

Our rating: 3.5/5 Stars


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