Horror films are not my cup of tea. Films that put children in danger for our viewing pleasure…even less of a draw. I went into “M3GAN” (directed by Gerard Johnstone) with trepidation and only because I had a column to write for the Telluride Daily Planet. Fortunately, even for a scaredy-cat like me, it’s more entertaining than horrifying.
You know a film has had an impact on society when one of the dances has become fodder for imitation. Much like the “Wednesday” dance that spawned Tik-Tok imitators and celebrity impersonations, this film has an awkward dance. The Saturday Night Live star, Chloe Fineman and host Aubrey Plaza used it in a sketch. They even invited one of the film’s stars, Allison Williams to make a guest appearance. Ironically, the sketch was titled “M3GAN 2.0”, and there actually IS a sequel in the works.
Falling into the category of films cornered by the “Scream” franchise, “M3GAN” is both scary and over-the-top. There are scenes that border on silly and though there’s plenty of violence, nothing graphic and most of the bloodletting is done out of view. The young star, Violet McGraw, does a capable job of portraying the orphan “paired” with her new robot playmate. She’s tasked with a wide range of emotions: from grief-stricken to bratty to frightened in quick succession.
McGraw does a good job of interacting with her new robot playmate, confiding in her and listening to her advice. More complex emotions, like despair or anger, come off as a little forced for this child actor. She’s more natural with Gemma and her robot than in other interactions. She’s not given many characteristics but her jump from sad to defiant doesn’t ring true.
Allison Williams (“Girls”, “Get Out”), portrays our tech genius, Gemma, as a single woman with a display of collectibles and in-home tech gadgets but little experience with children. Instead of bonding with her niece and dealing with some harsh emotional trauma, she gives her an iPad, some toast and is back to work. I like that she’s not made into a warm, fuzzy guardian. This woman has no mothering experience and is even cranky with her neighbor. She’s what a normal busy self-involved tech worker would be like.
Where the story goes off the rails for me is when characters behave in ways contrary to their best interest. Sure, the killer doll got away with her previous crimes, but would she risk exposure in such a major way at the toy corporation? Would any child’s fondest memory of her mother be a cockroach on her hand? Would Gemma leave the killer doll behind to whisk her niece home right before a big product launch?
Yes, yes, it’s a movie. Of course, there’s going to be plot contrivances. It’s like any scary movie where you want to shout at the screen, “Don’t go in there”! Characters act in inexplicable ways to further the action. There are some nice real-world nods, like the CEO telling Gemma she might want to renegotiate her contract. The overbearing mother of the evil boy, nattering on to Gemma about the wholesomeness of outdoor activities while her son menaces others. The neighbor woman acting like a Karen and calling the police on Gemma.
“M3GAN” has been a big hit at the box office with it’s realistic scares and campy charms. It feels like a throw back to other horror films but with less scares and more fear of the AI that surrounds us. There’s never a doubt that Gemma and her niece will bond or that M3GAN will be returned to factory settings. The film ends on a foreboding note. Is she really gone? Or has she spread like a virus to other electronic devices?
Drinks With Films rating: 1 cup of milk with no homemade cookies (out of 5)