Oh, no! Another killer-doll movie!
We’ve seen our share. Between the dummies controlling the minds of their ventriloquists in “Dead of Night” and “Magic,” the tiny tribal warrior that torments Karen Black in “Trilogy of Terror” and the more recent demonic playthings found in the “Chucky” and “Annabelle” series, dolls have earned a reputation for evil in horror flicks.
The latest: “M3gan” (PG-13, 102 minutes, in theaters), the title an acronym annoyingly pronounced “Megan” when it should be “Mthreegan” (granted, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue).
Call it what you will, “M3gan” is better than you might expect – if you don’t expect too much. It covers familiar ground, and is fairly predictable as a result, but it delivers enough suspense and occasional unexpected laughs to entertain.
It starts with a tragedy, when little Cady (Violet McGraw) survives a horrible car wreck that kills her parents. Out of obligation to her late sister, Gemma (Allison Williams) takes Cady in, though she’s clueless as a parental substitute. She’s not mean or uncaring, she just doesn’t understand when a hug might be in order. Cady, understandably devastated by the loss of her parents and not a particularly accessible child to begin with, withdraws into herself.
Meanwhile, Gemma works for the Funki toy company, and she’s busy developing a new high-end robotic doll, M3gan (pronounced, um, “Megan”), who can walk, talk and think. Gemma brings the M3gan prototype home, and soon the doll and Cady are best buds.
Talk about win-wins. Not only does M3gan take the pressure off Gemma to provide the emotional support Cady so badly needs, the doll is a big hit with Gemma’s boss. The Funki CEO plans to sell M3gan dolls for $10,000 each. Stealing a line about the Clash, he calls M3gan “the only toy that matters.”
Ah, but something’s not quite right – and not just because M3gan looks like a creepy version of an Olsen twin. M3gan becomes not only very protective of Cady, but of herself. That’s not good news for anyone M3gan perceives as a threat.
Things, predictably, get ugly.
But they also get darkly funny at times, like when M3gan turns the tables on a bully and says, “This is the part where you run,” or when she’s stalking another potential victim and breaks into a weird dance.
Director Gerard Johnstone (“Housebound”) and screenwriter Akela Cooper (“Malignant”) provide more than chills and giggles, though. “M3gan” strongly suggests that being a parent or guardian shouldn’t necessarily be easy, and that those who abdicate their roles by relying on alternative, often artificial, means to occupy children are courting disaster. In real-life terms, Gemma’s neglect of Cady, however unintended, is more unsettling than the actions of a homicidal doll. *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.