Greetings again from the darkness. Dolls are the new Clowns in horror. Okay, that’s not actually true since there is a long history of creepy dolls coming alive. Do you remember “The Twilight Zone” 1963 episode “Living Doll” featuring Talking Tina (voiced by the late, great June Foray, known for Rocket J “Rocky” Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who, Granny in the Warner Bros cartoons)? More recently we have experienced Chucky in CHILD’S PLAY (1988) and ANNABELLE (2014), and in a much less frightening style, the many dolls and playthings in TOY STORY (1995). This new generation is brought to us by director Gerard Johnstone (HOUSEBOUND, 2014) and the writing team behind MALIGNANT (2021), Akela Cooper and James Wan. Of course, new generation means high-tech, so this one injects the Artificial Intelligence from Alex Garland’s EX MACHINA (2014).
The tone is set from the beginning as we open on a “Saturday Night Live” type parody of TV advertising for a product PurRpetual Pet, furry critters that talk and poop while being controlled from an app (like everything else these days), and are guaranteed to outlive their owner, thereby eliminating grief. The manufacturer is Funki Toy Company, where Gemma (Allison Williams, GET OUT, 2017, and the daughter of national news anchor Brian Williams) is the head of the robotics department. Gemma’s workaholic lifestyle and commitment to career is rocked when she must take guardianship of her eight-year-old orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw, “The Haunting of Hill House”). Having no clue how to parent or even relate to a child, Gemma fires up her advanced prototype, M3GAN (Model 3 Generation Android), a lifelike synthetic, learn-on-the go robot meant to bond with one person … and in this case, parent Cady in a way that allows Gemma to stay focused on work. And yes, things don’t go according to plan.
As a caution, the first half hour (after the fake TV ad) is a bit dull; however, the pacing and entertainment value jump significantly once M3GAN comes home with Gemma and Cady. Sure, it’s kinda campy, and even funny at times, but M3GAN’s look and mannerisms are sufficiently creepy, even if her subtle eye movements and facial gestures are much more fun than her over-the-top protection of Cady. Amie Donald and Jenna Davis combine to deliver M3GAN’s physical movements and vocals, respectively. Even with it’s too-obvious jabs at corporate greed and parenting via tech, the film is likely to be a hit with teenagers, especially once it hits streaming platforms. Grown-ups aren’t likely to find it as appealing, although most every movie lover will admit this one trumps the annual tradition of lousy horror releases in January.
Opens in theaters on January 6, 2023