M3GAN had all the makings of a potential cult classic at its disposal from the second I saw the trailer; it had so-bad-its-good sprinkled all over it and as the first film of 2023, it might’ve set the mood for the rest of the year. Bonkers, derivative and completely psychotic….
….but with a surprisingly poised amount of emotion on it’s sleeve.
The film barely balances itself out on this wildly uneven tonal tightrope: between the riotously campy black hole of pop-culture, delightful self-awareness and an alchemical blend of havoc and mayhem, it’s a juggling act director Gerald Johnstone takes advantage of without hesitation. Hitting the ground running with cheekily high spirits, every single crevice of this films presentation was intended to be absurd, satirical or both as an acknowledgement of both the tropes that came before it and the current demographic of today’s world. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since the script came from Akela Cooper, the same writer who wrote Malignant.
In a neatly paced affair that clocks in well below the two-hour mark, editing is both concise and purposeful, working conjunctly with sturdy and stable camerawork, the blend of animatronics, mo-cap and VFX places the puppet in stable uncanny valley territory (in a good way?) and the choreography is well done, all other effects contribute to the rubbery yet intriguing visual aesthetic for each scene, production design feels both classy and retro in a odd sense, Anthony Willis’ score is equal parts foreboding and energetic, it takes full advantage of its PG rating despite the obvious complaints for later and the cast, at least, have fun with the material while adding some vulnerability to their two dimensional counterparts….and some embarrassingly wooden acting.
There is a lot to untangle with this story: how much it talks about grief and emotional fragility in modern parenting, technology lessening our hopes of proper communication, rampant consumerism without concern for the consequences and how we tend to bury our fears into something to mask ourselves from properly expressing that pain. Yes, we’ve heard all of this before and nothing can take away from the familial beats in this type of plot; recycling it’s concepts from Chucky, Terminator, Orphan and even IRobot for the new generation. However, even though this story is so unapologetically campy, over-the-top and par-for-the-course, I can give credit where credit is due: it does set up its beats and execute them in thoughtful and entertaining fashion.
It becomes clear from the offset that Gerald and Akela are aware that the HOW in story progression matters just as much as the WHAT and they do their best with the adoption drama bit despite knowing it wouldn’t be the strongest part. They lean hard into the absurdity whenever M3GAN’s on-screen but everything else is fairly basic…..and that’s both to the films benefit and detriment. Something overly complicated would’ve distracted the audience from….the memeworthy content but I think it could’ve added some extra layers to a script that called for something beyond silicone shenanigans.
Glaring product placement and predictable ending aside, defects do not go unnoticed. There’s a lot of clunky dialogue, the PG-13 rating, while understandable, leaves the experience relatively tame and bloodless ON PURPOSE, the gore is monumentally toned down, gaps in logic are astonishing aloof, and even this film can’t escape from the occasional cheap jumpscares. They always annoy me; you can’t make me change my mind.
It’s clear that the killer doll sub-genre isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and this Terminator meets Clueless meets Frankenstein meets Child’s Play slasher conglomerate is a testament to that fact. Honestly, I’m surprised the VERY FIRST film of 2023 is actually pretty alright; it’s not going to re-invent the shell of the wheel or anything but it is oozing with personality and for any film released in January to have anything like that…..is uncommon but welcome.