2021 brought us one of the whackiest, knowing and, at times, downright hilarious horrors of the last few years in the form of James Wan’s Malignant. The writer/director playfully utilised long-tired tropes in a subversive and self-aware way that made Malignant feel fresh, different and fun. This year, from the same writing team, produced by Wan himself, we have M3gan.
Going into this I was hyped. The trailers were showcasing that tonal-tightrope that is thoroughly entertaining when done well and all signs were pointing to ‘self-aware-city’. For the most part that was true. M3gan doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a silly little murder-doll flick. It’s not claiming to be the next Psycho and it’s doesn’t aim for the level of sophistication we’ve seen in the likes of The Invisible Man and Midsommar. It knows exactly where it sits on the shelf and that is no bad thing. Self-awareness isn’t by default a strength. There’s nothing inherently smart or subversive about self-deprecating humour, but equally, when it’s done well, it works. M3gan manages to strike the right balance and just about stays on the right side of it. However, the slightly younger-skewing appeal and 15 rating may have been a little detrimental to it success rate with those elements. In my screening the younger members of the audience seemed to be laughing ironically and the pitch-black humour, rather than understanding the film itself is being ironic. Either way, M3gan drew enough of a viewership to gross over $100 Million wordlwide against a modest budget of just £12 Million. For all intents and purposes, it’s a commercial success and certainly hasn’t gone without some critical acclaim to boot.
Narratively speaking M3gan doesn’t do anything especially surprising. Recently orphaned Cady (Violet McGraw) gone to live with her toy-making genius Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) is a relatively predictable set-up and takes a while to get going. The grief aspect goes more or less unexplored in favour of platforming the origin of M3gan, who, from the get-go, is the most obvious murder-bot you ever did see. Gemma gifts M3gan to Cady as a trial-run to demonstrate the new ‘toy’s’ sophistication and ability to learn when paired with a human. If a success, M3gan will be the next big thing in the interactive-toy world. Under increasing pressure from her boss David (played wonderfully by Ronny Chieng) Gemma rushes the code and powers-up M3gan prematurely. Deadly consequences ensue. And no, none of that is spoiler. What Director Gerard Johnstone constructs for the next hour or so is more of the same predictability punctuated occasionally by a jump-scare or a baffling-yet-delightfully-fun dance sequence (If you know you know). The horror elements lack bite, partly due to the teenager age-rating but also feel frustratingly similar throughout. Granted, M3gan has a particularly unsettling aesthetic which is rendered well considering the budget and a couple of well-directed visuals in the 3rd act work well but outside of that it feels a touch light on the fear-factor, low on the gore-scale.
Ruling – A decent take on the murderous-doll sub-genre but lacking the audacity and hilarity of James Wan’s last foray into mid-tier horrors, albeit he wasn’t behind the camera this time.