“Wouldn’t it be cool if we made a movie with a killer doll who splits between Annabelle and The Terminator?” This is how the conversation between Michael Clear, Judson Scott, Rob Hackett and James Wan began that led to the making of M3gan , the horror film that opens the cinematographic 2023. What if we had a female screenwriter like Akela Cooper write it? Someone must have surely shouted the word genius somewhere behind the scenes, kicking off a hammering but functional marketing mechanism, which brought the existence of this film to everyone’s attention. After all, we all felt the need for a killer doll with creepy but charming features, able to dance like a TikTok star and wear vintage but trendy clothes, to shake up our monotonous January evenings.
M3GAN: Parenting isn’t for everyone
Gemma (Allison Williams) is a brilliant developer who works for a cutting-edge toy company, famous for creating robotic animals able to keep the little ones company, thus preventing them from having to deal with the suffering of the loss of a pet . But it is precisely a mourning that puts her in an unusual situation for her, making her the legal and emotional guardian of little Cady (Violet McGraw) who has become an orphan of hers. However, Gemma does not have the social and empathic skills suitable to put herself in the shoes of a parent and so she decides to entrust her niece to her latest (and secret) invention: M3gan, an artificial intelligence prodigy. It is a very realistic doll, programmed to be a reliable companion for children and safety for parents. M3gan can listen, watch and learn, transform from friend to teacher, from playmate to protector and binds strongly to the child entrusted to her. Need more to start smelling the stench of tragedy?
The power of dolls
On paper, the idea of creating a fusion between a doll and a killer robot is particular and successful, above all because it takes us out of the usual pretext of demonic possession which commands all kinds of obscenity and violence. M3gan is aware of her actions and decisions and is much more intelligent than the humans who programmed her, thus able to study, store and circumvent them. Besides, she’s a doll, and for anyone who grew up with 90s horror movies, that’s enough to create that involuntary feeling of unease. You look at her, with her eyes too big, and you already know very well that at any moment something will be triggered that will make her dangerous (a thought that many of us are born spontaneously with any slightly old-fashioned doll by now). There is genius behind M3gan and no, let’s not talk about that of her fictional creator. The doll is well-crafted, suitably creepy but also extremely tongue-in-cheek and biting in conversation. And then there’s her moving in an unconventional way, made even more explicit in the long shots, in which she is played by a little actress, dancer and contortionist, who also gives us a moment of dance that is already iconic before the release in the movie room.
So where is the problem?
What does the viewer ask of a horror film? Generally to amuse him through restlessness, by telling him stories and situations that terrify him. Apart from a few small moments of tension that give pleasant emotional discomfort, M3gan for the most part requires you to do a huge job of suspension of disbelief, inserting itself in a not too in-depth sci-fi setting and in a group of characters written only for chieftains. It’s too hard to believe, even on a subconscious level, what happens on the screen, and any twists and jumpscare are often disappointing and derivative. M3gan is often disturbing, no one denies it, but it is much more often funny and edgy, with its modern irony, closely related to the current way of thinking and communicating. The classic power of horror is lost inaim of educating and giving a moral warning to an increasingly self-centered society, too busy to care for her family and the consequences that her actions generate in younger minds. And everything else takes a bit into the background, with a direction by Gerard Johnstone before rhythm and speed, with too many pauses and unnecessary moments and a narrative construction devoid of depth and bite.
We have certainly seen worse films than M3gan, which still gives the viewer some nice insights, a well-regulated mix of live action, animatronics and CGI, funny attitudes and disturbing looks. Despite this, the film still fails to meet the expectations that the pressing marketing campaign has created in the viewer (or at least in yours truly) and does not leave that unexplained sense of terror that follows you home in the hours following the viewing.