James Wan

M3GAN

18/01/23

Cineworld Edinburgh

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.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

21/05/21

The Saw franchise always seems to me like a missed opportunity. The first movie, way back in 2004, was a decent low-budget thriller, tightly directed with a clever climactic twist. But its success gave creators James Wan and Lee Whannel carte blanche to go bigger and nastier. Which they promptly did. The result was a long stream of torture-porn specials, where people the viewer didn’t really care about were messily dismembered in a series of Heath Robinson torture contraptions. In the ‘final’ episode, Jigsaw (the eighth film in the series), the ingenious serial killer was caught and put to rest.

So the news that comedian Chris Rock (a self-avowed Saw fan) had plans to ‘reinvent’ the series seemed to offer at least the possibility of something fresh. In Spiral, he plays detective Zeke Banks, who becomes the ultimate victim of a ‘Jigsaw copycat’ killer. See what they did there? The main difference is that the new murderer is killing only corrupt police officers, which Banks’ department seems to be overrun with. Indeed, it feels at times, that he is possibly the only good guy on the entire force. We quickly learn that he once turned in a fellow officer for breaking the rules and, as a consequence of this, he is disliked by his colleagues.

It probably doesn’t help matters that I find myself in full agreement with them. As played by Rock, Banks has all the inherent charm of a dead mouse in a loaf of bread. Those, who like me, were hoping for a sprinkling of witty repartee to leven the usual visceral mix will be sorely disappointed. Rock’s dialogue – if I’m allowed to call it that – is composed mostly of F bombs, directed at anybody who disagrees with him – and trust me, that’s a lot of F bombs. Even his new partner, doe-eyed Detective William Shenk (Max Minghella), comes in for scorn, mainly because he’s a married man with a new baby to think about.

Banks’ dad, Marcus (Samuel L Jackson, who looks like he’s wondering how he ever got himself into this debacle), is also a highly regarded police officer, retired now, but still taking every opportunity to stick his nose into the latest cases, because… well, every retired guy needs a hobby, right? The question is, who is the mysterious killer? If it takes you longer than twenty minutes to work it out, then you really haven’t been concentrating…

From the opening scene onwards, it’s clear that writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger aren’t the tiniest bit interested in breaking any new ground – but breaking limbs, now, that’s a different matter. There’s the usual prurient torture scenes with the camera lingering a little too gloatingly on severed tongues and shattered faces. There’s a labyrinthine series of (frankly ludicrous) flashbacks and, finally, we’re offered a ‘reveal’ which is going to surprise precisely nobody. Ominously, the ending is left hanging, presumably in the hope that Spiral will initiate yet another series of diminishing returns, but I for one certainly won’t be back for more. Once bitten and all that.

This is dismal filmmaking that consistently fails to break new ground. Why not leave it here and look for some new ideas? Just a thought.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

Annabelle

MV5BMjM2MTYyMzk1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg2MjMyMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_

19/10/14

Annabelle began ‘life’ as a short segment in James Wan’s, The Conjuring, a film that proved to be unexpectedly successful. So now we’re offered this 60’s set sequel which gives us Annabelle’s back story. Capably directed by John R. Leonetti, it features fairly effective fright scenes of the silence, silence, silence, boo! persuasion, which would be all right, if the bits in between weren’t so desperately predictable.

Dull as ditchwater young couple, John and Mia Gordon (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis) are going to be parents soon. John is training to be a doctor, while Mia spends most of her time at the sewing machine, making… something (we’re never quite sure what.) As a special surprise gift, John buys Mia a doll she’s ‘wanted for a long time. Since the titular Annabelle is a thing of exceptional ugliness, this proves to be the film’s most baffling mystery. Why would anyone give anyone something that looks so downright creepy in the first place?

The Gordon’s blissful life is rudely interrupted when the next door neighbours are brutally murdered by their daughter, now a member of a Charles Manson-like hippie death cult. Mia is injured in the resulting affray and once back from hospital, with her new baby, Leah in tow, things start to bump and creak and generally jump out of cupboards in  her direction. Local priest Father Perez (Tony Amandola) is called in to help…

With it’s 60’s apartment-block setting, the film this mostly resembles is Rosemary’s Baby though frankly it’s not in the same league as Polanski’s iconic fright movie. This is a film where every character speaks in exposition and where you can see the ending coming as soon as the friendly bookshop owner steps into view. It has a few scary moments dotted throughout the proceedings but ultimately, it’s just a series of set pieces linked by not very much at all.

2.9 stars

Philip Caveney