This year we can expect an avalanche of horror remakes and sequels. It’s going to make for entertaining highs and depressing lows, with an Exorcist sequel, The Evil Dead Rises, Scream 6, The Nun 2 and the Salem’s Lot remake all on the way. In truth, there are only a handful of new and original ideas seeping into cinemas this year, which is quite worrying. That aside, the first horror to land this year in the form of M3GAN is actually quite a worthwhile experience with some, and I say this honestly, creative flourishes on offer.
Now over the years we have seen the ‘creepy doll’ style horror work and at times become overused. One of the first, Child’s Play (Tom Holland), gave production companies a new direction, though it equally caused controversy. Then from The Conjuring came the Annabelle franchise, while others like Brahms did relatively okay. M3GAN is different to all of these in that there is no Satanic undertone or demonic possession involved. Instead, this movie draws elements from Westworld, Frankenstein and all things man-made — perhaps the well-worn adage of a machine who can think turning on its master.
In this a Jason Blum (Insidious) and James Wan (The Conjuring) production, there is no mystery or thriller to look forward to. The basis of the M3GAN is the execution and style as we watch the transition of a toy into a serial killer. We follow the story of the tragically orphaned Cady (Violet McGraw), who, while dealing with the trauma of loss, is sent to live with her single, workaholic aunt Gemma (Allison Williams). This aunt happens to work at a animatronic toy company, making something similar to Furby, interactive toys. That is until Gemma takes a step further to create the ultimate doll in M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android). Basically a four ft tall doll with a striking resemblance to the Olsen twins that continuously learns and evolves — obviously learning nothing from Skynet and The Terminator franchise.
Audiences will figure out the plot very early on, though, cleverly, M3GAN remains engaging. To help navigate Cady’s trauma, Gemma brings the android into the young girl’s life and both bond in a way that appears positive. There is a message that runs through the movie which is: using technology as a crutch cannot replace that human, emotional connection, and that is nailed down very early on. That is one of the good points, also how director Gerard Johnstone allows M3GAN to stay completely emotionless like a serial killer, while projecting a tone of innocence is done quite stylishly. And you do find yourself rooting for the robot.
I do feel the emotionless face, similar to that of Jason Voorhees (Friday The 13th) or Michael Myers (Halloween) is usually the ultimate vehicle for the cinematic murderer. Here, the face is not hidden behind a mask, and that is one of the original ideas. Towards the end, however, M3GAN takes on the annoying guise of a spoiled teenager, more than a heartless killing machine. That said the acting is reasonable, the atmosphere is never really tense, and of course the star is the android. With some jump scares, a healthy slice of gore, it does become predictable, though it is still entertaining escapism. You know what’s going to happen, you simply become riveted to see how it happens.