Ah, January! The fabulous cinematic wasteland where mid-budget high-concept films go to die. Especially, as one may think, with this particular movie. You’ve seen the trailers, the dancing, the strange displays of en masse Megan lookalikes dancing in unison at promotional events. It’s even got a number replacing a name in the title, for goodness’ sake! Sure, the doll looks pretty creepy, but what are you really expecting from a PG-13 horror comedy? I’ll tell you this much: what I expected from this film and what I got are two nearly wholly different products.
After her parents are killed in a snowplow-related accident, newly-orphaned Cady (Violet McGraw) is taken into guardianship by her business-oriented aunt, Gemma (Allison Williams). Gemma, who’s been working night and day for a toy company on secret projects, isn’t a stellar parent. It doesn’t help that she’s as glued to her screens as Cady was before the accident. With CPS breathing down her neck to make a beneficial environment for Cady, and neurotic CEO David (Ronny Chieng) pushing deadlines closer and closer to today, Gemma comes up with a plan. That plan? Workshop this secret project, M3GAN (Amie Donald, Jenna Davis voice), with a recently traumatized niece. Megan, as she’s affectionately referred to, knows everything about everything, plays with the kids, and reminds them to do their homework. However, after Gemma tells Megan that no physical or emotional harm is to come to Cady, Megan takes that just a few hundred steps too far.
If this seems familiar, that’s because there was a similar concept behind 2019’s Child’s Play remake. What if a robot that knew about everything that your kid did went around killing bullies and mean parents and whatnot? Where M3GAN shines, in my mind, is a more pointed critique of raising kids with iPads (you’ve seen those kids), dealing with trauma, and parenting in general. We’ve had cylinders that sit in our living rooms, presumably listening to our every word, for some time now. What if, this film asks, your child saw that robot as a better companion than their very own parents? On top of that, that same robot is also a manipulative murderer. That’s more the cherry on top than the real meat of the film.
I give my kudos to Violet McGraw, who’s given a very large role in a film such as this for a kid her age. She really plays up the recovering iPad addict slash life-altering trauma victim. Additionally, this film isn’t nearly the film it is without Megan herself. She’s the motor of both the family drama and this really campy tone that the rest of the world around Gemma and Cady. Quite literally every other character is some variation of caricature, and I think that the film juggles those tones fairly well even if there’s some tonal whiplash at times.
If you need a reason to go to the theaters in January, I’d say just go and see Avatar again. However, if you’re insistent on seeing something new, I’ll posit that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by both the laughs and the scares that M3GAN has to offer. Just keep an eye on your Alexa.