Allison Williams has the ability to play straight. She brings believable realism to the most preposterous situations, or maybe she’s just an actor with limited range. Whatever the reason, it does work, especially in the tough genre where comedy meets horror. He succeeded in a critical role in “Get Out” and now “M3gan,” a ridiculous, derivative and irresistible killer doll movie.
Williams plays Gemma, a robotic engineer with no maternal instincts who is suddenly forced to care for her young niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after a car accident leaves her orphaned. The synthetic skin of this movie is about how Gemma learns to care for a child. Fortunately, his bloody heart is much more stupid. This is the comedy of a grumpy android that was created in a primitive way and turns into the Terminator.
It’s the kind of horror movie that needs a strong not fragile, but dull not flashy lead performance. Williams skillfully updates the mad scientist archetype by refusing to pause and ask questions as he invents a future doll that mates with a child and adapts to his needs, filling his place as best friend and older sister. Gemma uses Cady as a test case.
There may be some misdirection in a stronger movie. But M3gan (performed by Amie Donald) is clearly pure evil from the very beginning. He is a wonderful heavyweight: stylish, sarcastic, extremely careful. His wanton violence is never graphic enough to lose his PG-13 rating. In early January, a good beast and a sense of humor may suffice, as prestigious holiday fare tends to give way to more trivial pleasures. This movie has both, and produces a slow start, some silly dialogue (“Didn’t you code in the Parental controls?”), and a book-worthy conclusion.
While the trailer invites comparisons to “Child’s Play,” the slasher movie featuring the doll Chucky, that movie had a much dirtier, disreputable backstory before its sequels and reboots became ridiculous. The “M3gan” moves with a lighter touch. There is a scene where a police officer investigating the disappearance of a dog suddenly chuckles and then apologizes, saying, “I shouldn’t have laughed.”
I would have preferred a handful of more guilty laughs, but there are a few, including the one where M3gan treats a real bully like a doll with disposable parts. But the tone here sticks to camp enough to make the crowd grin. Director Gerard Johnstone doesn’t go for elaborate suspense sequences or really intense horrors. She wants to please, not rattle. And while there are some clues in social commentary about how modern moms and dads use technology to outsource parenting, this movie is smart enough to never take itself too seriously.
It helps that comedian Ronny Chieng plays Gemma’s boss, an always edgy toy maker who talks nonsense to Hasbro in a rare moment of satisfaction. Any horror fan knows that her jolt is as much a sign of impending doom as students having sex at a summer camp. She doesn’t disappoint when the moment comes. M3gan uprights, somersaults, dances, it just doesn’t make sense. What a baby.
It’s rated PG-13 for swearing, torn ears and ruining your childhood. Duration: 1 hour 42 minutes. In movie theaters.