M3GAN – Director Gerard Johnstone (Film Review)

M3GAN is an ultra-sharp and thought-provoking sci-fi horror film from director Gerard Johnstone, with outstanding performances and exceptional tension that build to an immensely terrifying and satisfying conclusion.

Starring: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Jenna Davis, Amie Donald, Ronny Chieng

After a tragic accident leaves young Cady (Violet McGraw) in the care of her bleeding-edge roboticist aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), the two struggle to connect and develop a functional dynamic, with Gemma unable to juggle the demands of her career and Cady unable to process her recent trauma.

While attempting to meet a near-impossible deadline on a new robotic children’s toy, the two bond over an early prototype of Gemma’s, sparking the first moment of genuine joy and excitement from Cady, and inspiring Gemma to complete a secret passion project despite dismissive protest and doubt from her boss, David (Ronny Chieng).

The result is M3GAN (Model 3 Generative ANdroid), a life-like AI doll that becomes an instant and empathetic support companion to Cady and is given the primary objective of protecting her from both physical and emotional harm. After a demonstration of M3GAN’s capabilities leaves David in awe and turns his eyes to dollar signs, Gemma races to finish the release version of the AI prototype by using Cady as a 24/7 beta-tester.

Despite a few early stumbles in coding parameters, M3GAN (physical performance by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis) quickly surpasses even Gemma’s high expectations, becoming inseparable from young Cady as the girl develops an unbreakable emotional attachment to the doll, one that begins to test the limits of Gemma’s sanity and safety.

Now, I’m a sci-fi horror nerd and grew up with Furby while watching the Olsen Twins go from Full House to real-life Animal House, so this film is dialing right into my nostalgia centre, but my goodness is this film amazing. As in, near-perfect, and if you know me at all (I’m looking at you, Cosmic Sin) then you know I’m brutal at the best of times.

No slights towards the genre, the director, the trailer, or anything else, but this film went a little unnoticed in my periphery due to the January death-slate release and the ‘Oh great a possessed evil doll’ trope that’s been ingrained into my soul after 30+ hours of Chucky media and two-too-many Annabelle films.

Perhaps it was that I went into this with absolute gutter-level expectations, preparing myself for a TikTok Ex Machina meets Bicentennial Man in a wig. But when I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and I’ll be damned if this hasn’t raised the bar sky-high for the rest of the year’s horror and sci-fi output.

From start to finish M3GAN is absolutely captivating, from the brilliantly balanced performances across the main and supporting cast, to the slow-burn tension and Black-Mirror dread, and right into the final exhilarating seconds of the film’s 102-minute runtime.

Allison Williams still wears the lingering skin of suspicion from her breakout film role in Get Out, yet delivers an authentically nuanced performance of an obsessive tech worker detached from the very social skills she’s trying to implore as an unprepared maternal figure, while Violet McGraw is every bit as watchable and natural as a young Mia Goth, weaving between traumatically numb and explosively emotional with incredible precision.

The supporting cast, although slightly caricatured, all fit into this horrific jigsaw puzzle perfectly; Ronny Chieng’s semi-oblivious ego-driven CEO, the down-to-earth realism of Jen Van Epps and Brian Jordan Alvarez as Gemma’s co-workers, and even the smaller supporting roles of Amy Usherwood as Cady’s detached-but-probing therapist and Lori Dungey as Gemma’s maddening neighbour-from-hell.

The result is a film where nothing feels wasted, where almost every moment is utilised to its fullest without being obvious or relying on jump-scares to maintain either its momentum or tension. Peppered with pop-culture references, sly and wry social commentary, blunt-force brutality, and just enough humanity and campy humour to retain its consistent sense of realism, the screenplay for M3GAN (by Akela Cooper from a story by Cooper and James Wan) will no doubt be templated out in the coming years as others try to imitate it.

The rarest achievement here is in M3GAN herself, immediately engaging and familiar, terrifying and seamless anthropomorphism through the most subtle of expressions and language, culminating in a climax that does what most horror and sci-fi films would consider impossible: making you root for the villain and the heroes separately and simultaneously.

All this from a $12 million budget and a reshot version that was originally deemed too violent, where the on-screen horror is so seamlessly and perfectly framed and distorted that your imagination does all the wetwork for you, framed by a script that intimately approaches the deeper concepts of trauma,  technology, and morality within the psychosphere of artificial intelligence.

The final 20 minutes of this film made me want to audibly WOOOOP into the darkness of the cinema with excited horror-nerd glee, and is just one of the reasons I’ll be rewatching this again and again – Gerard Johnstone hit me up with your director’s cut immediately! – while eagerly waiting to see what’s next from a director I haven’t been so excited about since Ari Aster.

Go and see M3GAN immediately, before (inevitably) M3GAN comes to see you…

Oxford Lamoureaux


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