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“M3GAN” proves to be a surprise, both the doll and the movie, in Gerard Johnstone’s capable hands


Coming along on the heels of other cursed dolls like Chucky and Annabelle is M3GAN, or Model 3 Generative Android for long, the eponymous star of the new Blumhouse horror movie, this one in collaboration with James Wan’s production company Atomic Monster.

The trailer bade us prepare for a potential camp classic, what with a good wig, emotionless rubber visage and dance moves that wouldn’t be a shock on RuPaul’s runway, and in that, “M3GAN” delivers. Thankfully, it delivers in other areas as well. Call it the little Lalamove of the early movie calendar.

In “M3GAN,” young Cady (Violet McGraw) is orphaned while on a ski trip with her parents, causing her to become the ward of her nearest relative, her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams, who’s got a knack for cornering these “terrible people” roles). Gemma’s a career-focused toy designer at a big company that has toy giant Hasbro in its sights, and she’s also the main brain behind said company’s biggest toy, a Furby derivative with many more bells and whistles.

Breathing down her neck to come up with the next big thing is her boss David (Ronny Chieng), and she can’t focus on raising a young girl she barely knows at such a crucial point in the fiscal year. But what if you could knock two crises with the same creepy doll? Because Gemma’s been working on a secret project that would be very expensive but leave Hasbro in the dust, and a lonely little girl seems like just the target market…

Black comedy

Refraining from saying much more lest there be spoilage, “M3GAN” proves to be a surprise, both the doll and the movie, in Gerard Johnstone’s capable hands (look for his “Housebound”!), working off a script by Akela Cooper. Black comedy, horror, social critique, campy melodrama, even movie musical elements, all get interwoven in a delicate balance, a tightrope walk of tone that is impressive.

Even at the beginning, when Johnstone deploys a pitch-perfect skewering of big toy companies’ TV commercials aimed at Saturday morning audiences, there’s hints of off-color copy, a satirical edge subtle as a freshly-sharpened paper cutter. Cooper’s screenplay is playful, juuust good enough at the emotional bits while being coy about whether other lines are jokes at your expense or not. Threading that needle is almost half the fun, and it’s great that Johnstone and Williams et al are in on the joke but don’t tip their hand. There’s no hyuks or back-patting or winks at camera; they understand the best camp is when every performer is sincere.

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The film does well at escalating events that lead to a growing threat and the inevitability of a confrontation between the titular android and her creator. One of the interesting facets is there’s ample evidence to be for the non-human. Questions of free will, sentience, self-determination are brought up, though maybe don’t expect anything with the depth of Aquinas. But for a laugh, and a fright, “M3GAN” has you covered.

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