Directed by Gerard Johnstone
Starring Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald and Ronny Chieng
By Tim Basaraba
Oh, January. You’re the saddest of months for film releases. The month when studios unload the projects they don’t care about with little or no marketing support. Poor January.
January 2023 doesn’t need our sympathy, though, because the year’s first film is a fun, entertaining and utterly ridiculous horror flick about a child’s AI doll coming to life and killing people. In fine Blumhouse fashion, this cheap horror film (12-million-dollar budget) will most surely pay early dividends and spawn a sequel.
M3GAN (yes, the “e” in Megan is actually a “3,” LOL) is director Gerard Johnstone’s second feature. His first, Housebound (2014), was a horror/comedy indie darling debut; I will be heading to Scarecrow Video to rent this rare find soon. Director James Wan (the brain behind the Saw, Insidious and Conjuring series), who co-wrote and produced M3GAN, tapped this young director to helm his first film with a budget and it paid off. The blend of comedy, horror and social commentary functions like a perfect Venn diagram. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
One major reason M3GAN works is the film’s two lead actors, Allison Williams as Aunt-turned-guardian Gemma and Violet McGraw as a young orphan who needs a home after her parents’ sudden death. Each actor does a great job with conveying the pain associated with loss without too much melodrama. In fact, if this film turned out to be a “elevated sci Fi” film after the first act instead of a “doll gone wild slasher” I would have been fine with that. The setup is so engaging and fun that I trusted the writers and director.
Another thing working for this film is the performance from young stunt actress Amie Donald, who gives weight and realism to the AI doll character. Thanks to her, the “uncanny valley” felt pretty deep as I tried to decipher what which effects were practical and which were CGI.
The only performance that was lacking was the one from comedian Ronny Chieng, who played Gemma’s tech boss David. Whereas the rest of the characters seemed grounded in the reality of the world they are a part of, Chieng’s character felt like he was in another film, maybe a Happy Madison production from the 90’s.
Like the trailers promised, M3GAN becomes more of a fun slasher film and less of a study on adolescent grief once the killing starts, which is all right with me. If I want “elevated horror” I will wait for the next Ari Aster film. Meanwhile, M3GAN turned out to be exactly what I needed on a weeknight in January – laughs, scares and a reminder that parents who let devices raise their children shouldn’t be surprised when things go wrong.
If other killer doll movies like Chucky, Annabel and the Boy are presumably Ds and Fs then this latest killer doll film is a C+.