M3GAN is a worthy addition to the cursed doll film genre, which more often than not flirts with camp. From the moment that we see M3GAN, voiced by Jenna Davis with a physical performance by Amie Donald, with her immaculate sense of dress and extraneous yet stylish sunglasses, it is obvious that we are in camp territory. Indeed, even before the film came out, M3GAN has inspired memes and videos that highlight her striking and, most likely to become, iconic physical appearance. No one should be surprised if M3GANs are crawling the streets of countless suburbs during Halloween time.
Delightfully, M3GAN lives up to expectations in the camp department in truly jarring ways. Not one but two musical numbers appear in the film. M3GAN herself is not just a repository of wisdom but snappy one-liners and sarcasm that her slightly roboticized voice can barely conceal. James Wan, who manages to take high concept and bring just enough eccentricity and stylishness to it, created the story. But much credit must go to screenwriter Akela Cooper, who penned the equally unhinged Malignant (directed by Wan) last year, which also took an insane concept and somehow breathed fresh life into it while not taking the fun out of the execution. Because M3GAN is a compelling enough character as a movie villain, audiences will find themselves falling into the familiar trap of rooting for the villain even if they objectively know what she is doing is terrible.
Beyond the obviously campy element, M3GAN abounds in commentary on the digital age and the role of technology in parenting and family relationships. If M3GAN is the main draw for the film, Jenna (Alison Williams) and her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) are the grounding emotional arc of the film. Jenna creates M3GAN as a companion to Cady to help her through her grief over her parents’ deaths in a car accident. Jenna is a committed career woman who is struggling to meet deadlines for a toy company that creates super toys that employ artificial intelligence. She is clearly not ready to take responsibility for a child as evidenced when she can’t even have a face to face conversation with Cady without a device nearby.
Cooper’s screenplay and Williams’ performance make Jenna a more fully-fleshed character whom we can understand if not necessarily condone her actions. McGraw is also extraordinary as a girl who has to believably form a strong emotional attachment to M3GAN, one that may help M3GAN grow in sentience and intelligence but also starts to supplant Jenna’s role as a surrogate parent to an alarming extent. Cady’s anger and frustration at Jenna when she must be separated from M3GAN is perhaps the biggest scare in a movie with a killer robot doll.
Predictable third act resolution sullies somewhat the really solid entertainment that M3GAN has been up to that point. And of course, elements are put into place that will guarantee (many) sequels as is expected of the horror genre. But M3GAN manages to do the difficult and create a truly memorable story with sympathetic, fully-fleshed characters with a healthy helping of incisive social commentary that makes intelligent observations about the current age.