M3gan is a retread of a very familiar trope. The toy that’s more dangerous than a mere plaything. The AI that goes awry. We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? And yet, having said that, this is terrific fun, brilliantly executed and perfectly paced, with a running time that never allows its deliciously sinister title character to overstay her welcome. There’s also a mischievous sense of humour, which can’t be said for many of its predecessors.
Gemma (Alison Williams) is a roboticist working for a toy company called Funki. They’re best known for producing jolly little companions for children – think more sophisticated Furbys. Indeed, the film opens with their latest cheesy commercial featuring entranced children interacting with their cute little ‘pets’.
Gemma’s ball-busting boss, David (Ronny Chieng) is furious that other toy companies are copying their ideas and selling them at half the price. He wants Gemma to concentrate on creating a cheaper, furrier version of their current best-seller, but she has bigger ambitions. Together with co-workers, Cole (Brian Jorden Alvarez) and Tess (Jen Van Epp), she’s been secretly working on a more sophisticated AI called M3gan (Model 3 Regenerative Android), a super-smart robot, designed to bond with the child that owns it.
When Gemma’s young niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), is orphaned in a car accident, Gemma has to take on the responsibility of parenting a child, something she has no experience of. So wouldn’t it be great, she thinks, if she could enlist a helper, someone who will always put Cady’s welfare first, while also freeing Gemma to pursue her own interests? And before you can say ‘This is a very bad idea!’ Gemma has activated M3gan and synched her with Cady. Now the AI stands ready to oppose anyone who opposes her new best friend. What could possibly go wrong?
This is a ton of fun. M3gan is a wonderfully chilling central character, created using a clever combination of animatronics, puppetry and the stylings of 10 year old actor, Amie McDonald. You’ll believe a doll can dance, whilst simultaneously brandishing a deadly weapon. McDonald’s efforts are matched by a nicely nuanced performance from McGraw, and the scenes between the two of them are spellbinding – especially when M3gan sings one of her syrupy songs!
As you’d expect in this genre, it’s not all lighthearted fun. There are moments of bloodshed in the later stretches and, though writers Akela Cooper and James Wan don’t flinch from the body horror, director Gerard Johnstone knows exactly when to cut away from images that could so easily nudge this into the realms of an 18 certificate.
In my experience, horror films have a habit of careening out of control in the final third, but once again, M3gan confounds expectations, keeping the momentum going right through to the final scenes. Those expecting a lacklustre reworking of Child’s Play will be pleasantly surprised. Here’s a film that dances to its own tune. I leave the cinema having been thoroughly entertained – though I can’t help reflecting on the world of litigation that poor Gemma is going to face in the aftermath of M3gan’s climactic carve up.
Those in possession of an Alexa, be warned. This may make you a tad nervous about asking her to switch off the lights at bedtime.