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M3GAN Blu-ray review: Dir. Gerard Johnstone

There’s been many problematic dolls in movies, and James Wan is a known culprit for bringing them to the big screen with the likes of Saw, The Conjuring and Dead Silence being key characters in his horror tales. This time around though, it’s a little different as M3GAN isn’t just a container for the terror, she’s the lead in this genuinely enjoyable, and quite humorous, horror from the pen of Wan which was co-written with Akela Cooper, alongside smart direction from New Zealander Gerard Johnstone.

“I think we both learned a valuable lesson today…”

The film opens with a fake advert, and a funny song, for a Furbyesque toy that’s designed to replicate the relationship between a toy and a child, after the latter has lost a real-life pet. In a world of semi-automated and app-connected life and toys, concerningly this doesn’t seem too unusual. Meanwhile, Cady (Violet McGraw) is in a car with one of these toys, and her parents are driving in heavy snow for a vacation. They’re also arguing a little and it’s not difficult to sense that something bad is lingering in the wintry winds… and then the car is hit by a snow plough = cut to black.

We flash forward to Cady leaving hospital and put in the care of Allison Williams’ Aunt Gemma, who we learn is a talented designer/engineer/roboticist. Recently she’s been working on an artificially intelligent doll called M3GAN and, in truth, Gemma isn’t very child orientated and it’s not long before she decides that Cady is the perfect test ‘human’ for the toy, as the kid needs a friend who can listen and learn with her, and help her through traumatic times. The tests start well and, of course, it’s not long before the two are best friends, but M3GAN isn’t quite like other dolls and not because she’s been taken over by anything evil but because what boundaries does she have in her programming, and what will M3GAN do to make sure Cady is safe and happy?

Johnston’s film could certainly become too ridiculous, but it retains a fine line between the horror and the comedy of the situation throughout. The design of M3GAN isn’t so human that you don’t know the difference, but odd enough to freak people out when they first meet ‘her’ from a distance and hear her talk. The creation of the toy is also an interesting thing, with resonances of Pinocchio and Frankenstein in plain sight, which are also welcome associations and throw up the question of making creatures or experiments in our ‘own image’ – and thus the consequences with trying to control that level of creation.

When you add the modern relevance of Artificial Intelligence and where we are with it in modern society, with apps and self-learning models of invention, M3GAN feels more plausible than ever and that’s what makes it even more fascinating. There are the fingerprints of Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man here as well, with that element of technology and the flip-over of who controls what, and the balance of power being shifted to the thing we’ve created – and it works – alongside a host of ethical and moral decisions in both the build, and even questions that M3GAN herself raises as the narrative kicks off later on, as the stakes and tension increase alongside a heavier psychological attachment between Cady and the doll.

In terms of performances, Allison Williams and Violet McGraw lead the film with impressive ease, Williams is perfectly believable in both her issues with dealing (or not dealing) with even the thought of parenthood and I relate in that respect. McGraw you might remember from the outstanding The Haunting of Hill House and she’s great again, initially disconnected from the distressing world she finds herself in after the death of her parents, she connects in all the ways to her new best friend and undoubtedly has a dark edge to her own thought process, however that’s come to be. Ronny Chieng offers comic relief, which mainly works, and while most close-ups of M3GAN are superb animatronic and puppetry, it must be mentioned that the wider shots are portrayed by a brilliant Amie Donald in costume as M3GAN, with the voice coming from Jenna Davis.

The Special Features really dive further into the process of creating this film, with help from the likes of WETA in New Zealand, plus the advancement of set building, LED screens and more that create an excellent and believable film. In the three featurettes, which are A New Vision of Horror, Bringing Life to M3GAN and Getting Hacked, we get an insight from the majority of the cast and crew, who talk of living in a faster world, where parenting is changing all the time and while tech takes the world forward, are we thinking about the wider consequences in their full perspective? They also take a closer look at the stunning animatronic work, the importance of practical effects and the difference between that UNSEEN Cut (with a load more blood and gore) and the theatrical, which I wonder if they knew they’d get on this Home Ent release in the end anyway.

How they make M3GAN so small, with a big story, is definitely smart. Sure, it’s also somewhat ridiculous and terrifying in equal measure, but mostly I had a massive hit of fun escapism, and one that lingers with the reality of the story underneath. I’m sure we’ll see her again….

M3GAN is out to own now on Blu-ray and DVD: https://amzn.to/40bAvOj


3 thoughts on “M3GAN Blu-ray review: Dir. Gerard Johnstone

  1. I just watched this the other night. I liked the premise and probably would have liked it better if the main characters were more likeable. The part with the kid and the ears and what happened just after was putting all of the shock eggs into one basket. Hard to shake those images out of my head. Not the best “doll” movie I’ve ever seen but certainly not the worst. You gave it a fair review.

    Liked by 1 person

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