TL;DR – A weirdly wonderful film, full of camp and tension.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film.
M3GAN Review –
Artificial life discovering sentience is one of those thematic moments that can land you on the whole spectrum of cinema. It can be thought-provoking life After Yang, menacing like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or could flip about in between, such as Lost in Space. Today we look at a film that skews more towards the menacing, where we see that Asimov might have been on to something.
So to set the scene, Cady (Violet McGraw) is travelling with her family when tragedy strikes, and she is left alone to go live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams). Her aunt is not ready to be a parent, and both struggle to bond until Gemma shows Cady what she is working on. A new toy and AI robot girl called M3GAN (Amie Donald/Jenna Davis) that pairs and bonds with her primary user. Everything is going well until one day, when they have a conversation about death.
Given M3GAN is the title of the film. It would fall apart if the actual M3GAN did not live up to that potential. But goodness, do they knock it out of the park here. M3GAN combines on-set acting, vice work, puppetry, and some digital help in places. That combination creates an antagonist that is visually flawless but nails that uncanny valley feel. This makes even the slightest quirk tell that much more unsettling. She also moves with an uncanny fluidity that perfectly fits the character.
I also liked our setup, even if it was a touch on the slow side. A perfect storm of events creates danger in this film, and you need to believe in the storm to make it work. The first issue is that M3GAN’s first data point was a child processing an immense trauma without the parameters or frameworks needed to process this properly. The problem is compounded by Gemma being a bit insecure about being a new parent, leading to her missing some red flags. Add a dash of corporate pressure from David Lin (Ronny Chieng), and you have a believable storm.
Thankfully the cast sells the odd scenario and it does go to some weird and wacky places. Even with all the conflict and mistakes, everyone mostly remains sympathetic throughout the film. Allison Williams does a fantastic job of someone in over her head but is still trying her best. Violet McGraw is deeply compelling for someone who has to have a pouty face for most of the runtime. You feel her trying to work through that almost insurmountable grief, which is not the easiest emotion to pull off. Those moments when the two were bonding were some of the best moments in the film.
Then we have the tension that can come from a head tilt, an oddly placed word, or even a shadow rising from the darkness. I would not say this is a scary film at all, but they nail the tension. M3GAN has a vibe that it is trying to hit and nails it. Hearing the audience rumble with nervous laughter at every off-putting needle drop is an early candidate for the best cinema moment of 2023. It is telling that they straight-up kill a dog right at the start of the film, and it still works. Oh, and all those dances are perfectly placed, as M3GAN has the physicality to make them work.
In the end, do we recommend M3GAN? Yes, we would. Now I will say that this film is going for a very particular vibe, and if that does not resonate with you, then you might not be having a good time. If you liked M3GAN, I would recommend to you Upgrade.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of M3GAN
Directed by – Gerard Johnstone
Story by – Akela Cooper & James Wan
Screenplay by – Akela Cooper
Music by – Anthony Willis
Cinematography by – Peter McCaffrey
Edited by – Jeff McEvoy
Production/Distribution Companies – Blumhouse Productions, Atomic Monster Productions, Divide/Conquer & Universal Pictures
Starring – Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jack Cassidy, Ronny Chieng, Amy Usherwood, Lori Dungey, Stephane Garneau-Monten, Arlo Green & Kira Josephson
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: PG-13