Yes, you’ve seen killer doll movies before like the Puppet Master franchise, Dolls, Annabelle, Dolly Dearest, the Child’s Play franchise, and many more, but this one has a twist using A.I. as a jumping-off point. A doll that has A.I.? Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Hee hee hee.
Gemma (Allison Williams, who is a dead ringer for Jennifer Carpenter – Dexter‘s sister) is a brilliant roboticist at Funki, a toy company that puts out the incredibly popular kid’s toy, PurRpetual Petz (like a Furby, only smarter). But Gemma’s crowning achievement is her prototype, M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), an artificial intelligence life-like doll programmed to pair with a child and be their best friend. Gee, that doesn’t sound creepy in any way, right? Quite unexpectedly, Gemma’s sister & brother-in-law die, leaving their 9-year-daughter, Cady (Violet McGraw) in her custody. Gemma, unemotionally vacant to take care of her, decides to try out M3GAN on Cady and see what happens. Sure! What could possibly go wrong?
After pairing, M3GAN (an animatronic robot plus child actor Amie Donald, but voiced by Jenna Davis) and Cady become besties, much to the amazement and delight of uptight Funki CEO David (Ronny Chieng) and his kiss-ass flunky, Kurt (Stephane Garneau-Monten). David immediately orders thousands of M3GAN’s to be made and sold to kids. . . for $10K each! However (and you can see this coming a mile away), M3GAN’s programming increases exponentially, and soon it, er, she (like Skynet) becomes self-aware and vows her loyalty to little Cady and to her own self-preservation. As the weeks go by and M3GAN’s beta testing is going on, Gemma is becoming concerned about M3GAN and her attachment to her niece, not to mention how much it has grown in intelligence. Really? Has she never seen any of the Terminator movies? Predictably, the third act comes along and plays out exactly as you’d imagine, having been given an obvious Chekhov’s gun in act one.
Even with all the paint-by-the-numbers characters, plot holes, and some forced scenes, Akela Cooper’s (Malignant, Hell Fest) screenplay still manages to deliver the goods. This is not your A-typical slasher doll movie like Chucky, Dolly Dearest, or Puppet Master. This is more of a slow, psychological burn that takes its time to set up. The real showcase is, of course, M3GAN. Sufficiently creepy and unnerving, this 4ft-tall doll is a learning android and becomes more dangerous and therefore, more fun to watch as the movie progresses. A nice change of pace from your knife-wielding dolls running amok and attacking people willy-nilly. And director Gerard Johnstone (his second-only movie) lends a nice touch with some decent jump-scares, and a simple, yet effective directing approach. He uses plain meat ‘n’ potatoes camerawork, then adds some cool touches here and there (the forest scene is first-rate).
Violet McGraw as Cady is quite good, selling the fact her best friend isn’t real. She’s got a real charm about her and, in one moving scene with M3GAN, shows off her acting chops. Williams, on the other hand, has the emotional range of a turnip. Whether it was her character or her direction, Gemma barely registered on the Richter scale when things go terribly wrong. Everyone else around her is a basket case but she’s unfazed. Huh. This leads me to the supporting cast, who are great. Ronny Chieng is wonderful as the heartless CEO and Lori Dungey as Gemma’s nasty neighbor is terrific. Again, once this movie gets started, you’ll know where it goes and how it ends, but the trip there is so worth it.
**Now showing only in theaters
Dolly Dearest (1991)
When this movie first came out, everyone said it was a “female Chucky film”, and for good reason. It literally took the Child’s Play story and copied it, swapping out a demonic cutsie dolly in place of a Good Guys doll. Oy!
Elliot Wade (Sam Bottoms) is very happy. He’s just obtained ownership in what he thinks is going to be a very lucrative business deal: the Dolly Dearest doll factory in Mexico. Excited at the proposition of getting rich, he packs his family and heads South of the border with his wife, Marilyn (Denise Crosby), and their kids, nine-year-old Jessie (Candace Hutson) and 13-year-old Jimmy (Chris Dementral). Too bad they don’t know about some dumb archaeologist who, at the same time, has released an evil spirit from an ancient sarcophagus near the factory. The spirit, called Sanzia, decides to take refuge in all the porcelain dolls in the nearby factory. Uh-oh!
The Wade family arrives and sees their new home and (*gasp!*) the run-down, abandoned doll factory! Their new housekeeper, Camilla (Lupe Ontiveros) assures them all is well as some of the dolls are still okay, enough to start production again. Elliot even gives a Dolly Dearest doll to his sweet little daughter, Jessie while Jimmy finds the entrance to the cave, but his father warns him to never go there. $10 says he goes in within 24hrs. Anyway, Jessie makes friends with Dolly Dearest which is a bad thing as the evil spirit within the doll slowly takes possession of the kid, making her do and say all sorts of naughty things.
Camilla, suspicious of the doll being a Chucky knock-off, tries to warn Marilyn but is killed by the doll. This is followed by the night watchman, Luis (Will Gotay), who is scared to death by Dolly. It seems the evil spirit is now alive in all of the dolls! Thinking swiftly, Marilyn talks with archaeologist Resnick (Rip Torn with a bizarre Mexican-Irish accent) about their archaeological dig; maybe there’s a connection between that and her daughter acting all crazy. When Resnick explains they are searching for the remains of Sanzia inside the tomb, Marilyn realizes that Jessica is being controlled by her doll. This has been one lousy week!
Finally, the less-than-epic showdown happens when Dolly attacks, gets shot by Jimmy, but there’s still a bunch of dolls running around inside the factory! Nothing a few sticks of dynamite won’t cure, right? Boom! This movie had three screenwriters, two of them, Rod Nave and Peter Sutcliffe had never written (and never would again) a script. Director and third writer, Maria Lease, made her living more as a script supervisor and actress than a director or writer. She’d only written two other screenplays (Little Girls Blue and its sequel) and directed several porn movies. Yes, I said porn movies. With all of that, you can see why this movie failed so miserably at the box office.
The pace is slow and plodding and the acting is dull and uninteresting; definitely a ‘paycheck movie’ for Bottoms, Torn, and Crosby. The kids are fine with Dementral going on to do many other starring roles. The only redeeming factor in this film are the SPFX. The facial animatronics, like Chucky, are pretty decent and creepy at times. Just to give you an idea of how bad this movie is, in the film the family’s name is Wade, but in the closing credits they’re listed as Read. LOL!