Throughout the years, there has been no shortage of "killer doll" stories. It's probably safe to say that most people in the world know of at least one, whether it be movies like 'Child's Play', books like RL Stine's 'Night of the Living Dummy' or even made for TV movies like 'Trilogy of Terror', whose final short about a terrifying doll traumatized children everywhere at the time. But with so many examples out there (far more than what's been listed), why does 'M3GAN' feel so... right?
First and foremost, the story comes to us from the one and only James Wan, who just plain understands what "creepy" means. Further titles of his, be it screenplay or story include some of the 'Saw', the 'Conjuring' movies and, perhaps to a lesser extent, 'Insidious 2' and 'Dead Silence'. The screenplay writer Akela Cooper and Director Gerard Johnstone are a bit less familiar, but certainly, show promise for future films. Together, they provide the perfect atmosphere for something like this. At times, it can be pleasant and happy, and at others, it can be really quite creepy. On top of it all, however, lies a sense of humour, and some aspects of the film not taking itself too seriously.
A girl named Cady (Violet McGraw) experiences childhood trauma when her parents are killed in a car crash. She is sent to live with her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), who works for a robotic toy company called "Funki". In this fictional world, these guys would have cranked out Furbies, and the film parodies the concept of the "must-have" toy immediately. Anyway, Gemma's latest project is M3GAN (standing for Model 3 Generative ANdroid) A test of it, however, fails, and she's ordered to drop the project by her boss, David (Ronny Chieng). Meanwhile, Gemma's new relationship with Cady is a little rocky back home. That is until Cady discovers a mocap robot named Bruce, and upon interacting with it, expresses a wish that she could have a toy like that.
This prompts Gemma to bring a completed M3GAN (Amie Donald's mocap/Jenna Davis' voice) home behind her boss's back. However, M3GAN is excelling at everything she should be doing properly - not the least of which includes becoming a companion for Cady. Her caretaking responsibilities and ability to learn and divulge knowledge are nothing short of extraordinary. David soon becomes convinced that the project should go forward, but it's what people aren't seeing firsthand that becomes the problem. M3GAN is learning very quickly, generally using the internet to her advantage, but she also has a protocol to protect and care for Cady. This leads to some rather overprotective methods on her part, and soon enough, she becomes more than she can handle as she slowly becomes more and more independent.
So going back to what I asked before, about this feeling "right", another way to put it would be to say that this is what the 'Child's Play' reboot should have been. I think 'Child's Play' had the right idea, but the execution took itself too seriously, AND, still... why does that teenager want that Chucky doll? The concept, however, revolved around the ever-popular cautionary tale of technology going awry and becoming self-aware, which could ultimately lead to some kind of catastrophe. But I couldn't help but think of the 'Child's Play' reboot the whole time watching this, and how it could have been so much better. For me, this was a movie that got the concept a little more down.
It should be said that this also isn't just another movie about a killer doll combined with the aforementioned cautionary tale. This one sort of turns things around by having Cady be more and more reliant on M3GAN, taking her to be very real. It makes sense to make such a connection at such a tender age if your parents were in a fatal accident. At times, you're not sure who's scarier - Cady or M3GAN. I liked how Cady never quite got how M3GAN could be any sort of threat, whereas, in most "killer doll" movies, the kid (or whoever is involved) does eventually figure it out and become scared. Cady's actually a little more unsure of her new guardian, Gemma than she is of her new best friend.
I think Gemma is also a well-written character, as she shows two very human sides to herself. She tries to be kind and sweet to Cady and gives her what she needs. But she also needs Cady to help show what M3GAN she can do. She's a good balance of the guardian who walks the fine line between career and parenthood. There are times you don't really like her, but you still get the impression that she's trying - she just doesn't really know what she's doing. With characters a little more fleshed out, the film not taking things too seriously, and even giving us some pretty cool kill scenes, I get the feeling that M3GAN could become a new face for horror.