There’s truly no form of marketing that’s as strong as that of the meme – yes, you read that correctly. For every cent studios put into elaborate marketing campaigns, celebrity interviews, and demographic-centric trailers – I can’t think of anything quite as engaging or relevant as when a trailer drops, and the internet collectively memes it to death. So with that being said, M3GAN was obviously a film that was memed from the get-go, and it makes all the sense in the world. The character of M3GAN herself is as perfectly creepy as everyone as Blumhouse intended for her to be, but on the flip side, there is something so immediately amusing about the way she talks and carries herself. Simply put, from the teaser trailer alone, M3GAN seemed to be everything it needed to be and set the bar firmly in the middle of the road of what to expect. Yet, to my absolute delight, the film is way more than what it’s being advertised as. Sure, what you see is what you get – the story is about the same as what you can infer from the trailer and the tone is more or less about what you’d expect; but the real kicker here is how the satirical edge is genuinely great and the themes/commentary on social media and technology are not at all redundant but actually… thoughtful and sharp? A surprise, but a welcome one!
Director Gerald Johnstone sets the mood perfectly from the moment this opens with the freakiest advertisement you could possibly imagine, and the film really never falters from this tone as the rest of the film progresses. The entirety of M3GAN is a pretty simple but nonetheless impressive balancing act of camp and terror. A lot of this is in credit due to the central performances of the film, as they manage to take the material seriously for us to invest in the characters but also knowing exactly how to deliver the comedic beats to perfection. Allison Williams is really strong here as the somewhat-lead of the film Gemma, with a character who is refreshingly layered and emotionally complex as she has to take in her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after her parents are killed in a car accident. McGraw also delivers one of the best child performances I’ve seen in quite sometime, showing some genuine dramatic chops. However, it’s really the performance from young actress Amie Donald as M3GAN herself that obviously steals the show. Her line delivery is absolutely immaculate here… some truly grade-A laughs at several points in the film. While the makeup and effects do a lot of heavy lifting, it’s undeniably impressive that Donald is as creepy and amusing as she is in equal measure for an actress her age. Truly a one-of-a-kind performance.
One thing that I was a bit trepidatious about going into the film was the PG-13 rating assigned to it. Having seen the film, I’m actually quite impressed with what it gets away with and how effective it is regardless of the limitations. This mostly feels in credit due to clever editing and post-production, but also Gerald Johnstone’s vision behind the camera. As I mentioned earlier, this film was memed to death from the moment the trailer dropped – and I think the film itself is a perfect blend of both the horror elements that it promises as well as the comedic elements, but it never feels like either hurt or compromise the other. One of the legends of the horror genre as of late James Wan came up with the story for this, and it makes all the sense in the world after you watch it. While I think the way people are comparing every moderately wacky film to Malignant is getting a bit redundant, they both have a similar blend of comedy and terror where both the comedy is sharp, yet not at the expense of the terror which gets both brutal and shocking.
At the end of the day, what makes M3GAN stand out even aside from a handful of genuinely hilarious laughs, effective and spine-tingling horror, and a unique, instant horror-icon at its core is the surprisingly sharp and insightful examination on technology and the effects it has on the kids of today. While the film doesn’t make a lot of bold or unsurprising statements here, it is fun to see just how far the film takes the satire of corporations monopolozing kids and their attention spans for profit; even as bodies start falling at the hands of M3GAN. On the flip side to this, the relationship between Gemma and Cady is a nice change of pace for everything else going on as well, as there’s a fair amount of heart and genuine chemistry share between the two of them. All of these elements are perfectly cooked, and help the horror hit all the more hard when it happens because you actually give a shit about the outcome of it all.
I know it’s only January, but M3GAN is one hell of a way to kick-off the New Year and gives Blumhouse an immediate leg-up in the race. It’s an absolute blast of the film, and truly feels like the perfect start for a potential franchise if it does well financially this weekend. So get out to the theater so we can get M2GAN!