M3gan (2022) by Gerard Johnstone

It certainly doesn’t focus on refinement in the writing phase or on originality M3gan, the film that James Wan wrote and produced for Gerard Johnstone, here at the second work after the debut Housebound. We return to the theme of the murderous doll, suitably technologized compared to the past, and to the game between human and artificial intelligence: if we abandon the pretensions of verisimilitude or the desire for ethical reflections, we can also have fun.

The killer doll

She’s more than just a doll. It’s part of the family. M3GAN is a marvel of artificial intelligence, a life-sized doll programmed to be children’s greatest companion and parent’s greatest ally. Designed by brilliant toy company robot Gemma, M3GAN is able to listen, watch and learn, becoming a friend and teacher, playmate and protector of the child to whom she is bonded. When Gemma suddenly becomes the guardian of her 8-year-old orphaned niece, Cady, she is insecure and unprepared to parenthood. Under intense pressure at work, Gemma decides to pair her M3GAN prototype with Cady in an attempt to solve both problems – a decision that will have unimaginable consequences. [sinossi]

Since the day of its release in Italian cinemas, last January 4, M3gan it was received with considerable coldness by critics and insiders. The “accusations” against the film have all moved more or less in the same vein, the one that sees excessive predictability in the plot devised by James Wan and elaborated by Akela Cooper, as well as a lack of propensity to build suspense. There is no doubt that there was considerable anticipation for Gerard Johnstone’s second work, not so much for the latter’s career (of his debut Housebound, old almost nine years old, not a particular trace has remained, and the same argument is also valid when addressing his forays into seriality) but due to the presence as scriptwriter and producer of a real guru of contemporary horror like James Wan – l ‘another tutelary deity of the genre today, namely Jason Blum, is in turn among the producers. The Australian Wan, of Malaysian and Chinese origins, is in fact the creator of two franchise of planetary success, that is to say Saw And The Conjuringas well as having lent his professionalism to the DC cinecomics to transpose the adventures of Aquaman onto the screen – in this capacity he will return this year under the direction of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which is scheduled for a U.S. theatrical release on Christmas Day. The other element of almost automatic interest on the part of horror enthusiasts concerned the theme around which the story of M3gan, which attempts to revive the shivers on the back of the appearance of evil dolls, able to operate in full will killing those who hinder their plans. From Chucky to the puppeteer Andre Toulon, from the puppet Fats who annihilates the ventriloquist in Magic to Dolls by Stuart Gordon there were many inanimate objects in human form that disturbed the sleep of the spectators, toys that are all descendants of the dolls awakened to their own life by Paul Lavond in the sublime The devil doll by Tod Browning. Just Wan over the years has shown a particular attention to the subgenre, directing dead silence and bringing the creepy to life Annabellethe possessed puppet against which the Warrens find themselves fighting in one of their demonological adventures.

There is no doubt that the shrewd viewer has little to be surprised about when watching M3gan: ever since it is discovered, less than ten minutes into the film, that the brilliant Gemma, a robotic creator at a toy company, intends to give the prototype of M3gan, which she designed, to her eight-year-old granddaughter orphaned following a tragic car accident, it becomes clear that anything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong, and the consequences can only be bloody. Johnstone actually spreads very little blood, and this may have been one of the reasons for the profound disappointment of those who had approached the vision thinking they were face to face with a splatter. The height of the gaze at which the film is set is actually made explicit from the very first sequence – the one that anticipates the already mentioned road accident in the mountains in which Cady’s parents perish – where a commercial is shown advertising a toy, “PurRpetual Pets” which should make up for the sadness generated in a child by the death of a pet. It is therefore all too obvious how M3gan
has very little intention of upsetting or even frightening his audience, preferring a path close to satire, if not even in some passages not so far from direct parody of the genre. The middle line on which the young director moves, perennially poised between horror and comedy, denotes a scarce propensity for courage part of the film (with such a transversal target audience that it even reaches children, it would be quite bizarre to trace anomalous forms with respect to practice) but at the same time relieves it of any conceptual burden.

Akela Cooper, who had already written for Wan Maliciousdoesn’t get lost in sophisms and doesn’t seem to have any intention of thinking about artificial intelligences, principles asimovians
of robotics, or even more on any ethical reflection on childhood education. The film’s approach, right from the writing, on the contrary denotes a completely playful germ, and for this reason it limits itself to a predictable canvas on which to graft the misdeeds of this hyper-technological doll who is practically able to make up for both the parental figures and the to babysitters or tutors. Johnstone seems to be having a lot of fun, and if anything it’s a pity to note how the fun doesn’t always prove to be fun for the viewer as well. The rhythm, while glowing, is at times a movement devoid of necessity, and also of relative interest. Contrary to what is claimed by most, however, the honesty of having staged a full-blown “pop-corn movie” is appreciated, an unpretentious divertissement that speaks openly to a mass audience – in the United States the film is grossing considerable sums, and is an element on which it would be interesting to speculate –; displeasure, if it can be defined as such, is limited to a shiny but repetitive package, for a game that can only satisfy you at the beginning, but which inevitably gets boring sooner or later.

M3gan, the trailer.
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M3gan (2022) by Gerard Johnstone – Review | Quinlan.it