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M3gan is perfect pop cinema

It’s been almost half a decade since Hollywood has been trying to make M3gan – the difference is, on the first try, she was called Chucky. The Child’s Play remake was released in 2019, with Mark Hamill voicing a new version of the doll that has terrorized movie (and, more recently, TV) screens since the late 1980s. how it was sold by the studio, was that Chucky from the new Killer Toy would be a technological doll, full of fancy functions, allowing the franchise to deal with the fears and anxieties of parents and children of the internet generation.

It turns out that the Chucky franchise, as a narrative, has never been very interested in that sort of thing. As created and directed by Don Mancini, the Child’s Play saga historically talks much more about individuals excluded and oppressed from society, and about their interactions with the hegemonic system – see the 2nd season of the series, largely set in a convent. Subverting expectations to suddenly talk to audiences about the children’s industrial complex and its perverse relationships with today’s “chronically online” generation just didn’t work, because there was too much baggage there, in that name and that character.

M3gan’s first stroke of brilliance is therefore to position itself as an original story – a new product, in the advertising language that the film itself uses and abuses. Taking advantage of the fact that horror is one of the last genres in which Hollywood still dares to finance films detached from major franchises, screenwriters Akela Cooper and James Wan (an established partnership on the excellent Maligno) place M3gan at the proverbial forefront of scare stories that they seek to encapsulate the trepidations and dilemmas of their times, as they tend to do so well.

And get this: M3gan doesn’t need to be terribly original (which it isn’t) to establish this position. In the age of remakes, reboots, spin-offs and shared universes, it just needs to look fresh, and that it does without much effort. In the plot, little Cady (Violet McGraw, who was young Nell in The Haunting of Hill House) loses her parents in a car accident, ending up going to live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), an unsympathetic engineer who works for a multinational toy producer.

Faced with the difficulties of becoming her niece’s guardian, Gemma does the only thing she knows how to do: create a new toy, the M3gan android doll, programmed to instruct and protect Cady in all situations. The idea is to undermine primal fears caused by both the idea of toys coming to life and the concept of artificial intelligence turning against its creators. In the first field, M3gan’s silicone face often resembles Chucky’s, especially when it distorts into expressions of perversity not naturally associated with ideas of play and childhood.

Director Gerard Johnstone, whose only previous feature was the little-seen (but lauded) horror Housebound, knows how to juggle these moments. He finds valuable allies in the young actresses hired to play the doll (Amie Donald was the body double, while Jenna Davis provided the voice of M3gan), using his sudden animalistic movements efficiently to break the normality of the domestic and corporate environments in which he lives. the history takes place. Alongside cinematographer Peter McCaffrey, he still inserts welcome visual games (attention to specific moments in which the doll is “fractionated” by the camera, leaving only parts of its body in sight) in the midst of a more direct approach, less formalist, of production.

On the other hand, M3gan’s “awakening” as an artificial intelligence is less Ex Machina or Age of Ultron and more Black Mirror, examining how identities constructed on extrapolations of pop culture in internet structures do not bear the weight of real-life complexity – and even for that reason, they often generate violent reactions to it. Not that the doll is a cipher for the world’s incels and blackpillers, but it is clear that the immature mistake she falls into in trying to “protect” Cady comes from her purely artificial, statistical, algorithmic experience of the world.

No wonder, the film pauses no less than three times for M3gan to sing, with his voice robotized by autotune, some pop success that speaks of overcoming or optimism. M3gan, the film, would never underestimate the power that pop narrative has, its ability to mobilize our thinking and emotions in a specific cultural context – but it says, in any case, that it shouts a declaration of resilience wrapped in melody ( say, “Titanium” by Sia) is not enough to overcome a personal tragedy. All while taking advantage of the fact that his villain is literally made of titanium to enhance the joke, of course.

This ability to play both sides of the board – incorporating nods to traditional horror and “memeable” moments, taking traditional camp and modernizing it, satirizing the instrumentalization of the child as a consumer without losing sight of the fact that the target of the mockery must be the adult – is what makes M3gan a simply perfect piece of pop cinema. Like every culturally definitive horror film, it is smart from a marketing point of view (the hook for the sequel is obvious, and therefore there is a strategic containment of what is shown in this first film) as much as it is smart from a narrative point of view. .

Time will be kind to M3gan, but we too can, as audiences and critics, choose to understand its genius at first glance. It seems much fairer, doesn’t it?

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