Mona Lisa Smile

As deceptive as Da Vinci’s smirk on the Mona Lisa, “M3gan” is a logistically ludicrous horror movie that works best as a sci-fi thriller that satirizes our dependence on technology and its corresponding corporate greed.

 The brainchild behind “M3gan’s” story is horror maven James Wan (“The Conjuring,””Saw,” “Insidious”) who asked himself “What if “Child’s Play’s” Chucky had the technology of “The Terminator?” And so begat M3gan, a life-sized child’s toy with the brain of a supercomputer. The fact that such technology could be developed at a toy company instead of a government facility is only the first step in kicking logic to the curb. Allowing M3gan to go home with the designer without testing or allowing her technology to be stolen or damaged is the second.

 In the film, the toy designer/creator of M3gan is Gemma (Allison Williams). In classic mad scientist mode, Gemma’s previous success in creating toys has allowed her a private lab to develop a secret project named M3gan without the knowledge of her boss David (Ronny Chieng). Gemma’s embezzled $100,000 to create the prototype with the help of two colleagues Tess (Jen Van Epps) and Cole (Brian Jordan Alverez), but no one seems too fazed that they could be facing prison time should David find out. When David does find out, he’s implausibly only demands Gemma create a more competitively-priced toy than ‘swing for the fences’ with a revolutionary automaton.

 As luck (or more lunacy) would have it, Gemma’s niece Cady (Violet McGraw) has become recently orphaned when Gemma’s sister and brother-in-law are killed in a convenient car accident. Now Cady’s guardian, Gemma works at home and shows Cady M3gan’s clunky prototype named Bruce. Even at its initial stage, Bruce is way too software-sophisticated to be believably created on a shoestring budget. Even so, Cady loves Bruce. Though tasked by her boss to create a toy that’s consumer-friendly in cost, Gemma takes Cady’s reaction as Gospel- if Cady had Bruce, she’d never want another toy. Like Tiny Tim blessing everyone at the end of “A Christmas Carol,” these are magic words to Gemma and ‘affordable’ takes a backseat to ‘awesome android’.

 Tweaking Bruce into a latex-laden Elizabeth Olsen lookalike, Cady meets M3gan in a demonstration for David. To initiate M3gan, Cady touches M3gan’s palm and a bonding imprint is formed: orphan Cady has M3gan as a playmate and protector. As M3gan meets Cady, we see M3gan’s way too-sophisticated scanners work (like we did with “Robocop’s” P.O.V.). M3gan proceeds to draw, sing, talk like a normal kid, do voices when she reads to Cady, sing Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Sia’s “Titanium”- essentially everything a doll could do were it possessed by the Devil instead of merely programmed to do so.

 Instead of containing M3gan at the toy company, David sees dollar signs in mass-marketing M3gan and is duped into believing spending more time with Cady will help M3gan develop more. M3gan goes home with Cady and does develop more…cognitive thought. Now able to think for itself, M3gan takes the scary sci-fi twist we’ve seen from “2001’s” H.A.L. 9000, “Ex Machina’s” Ava, and the robots of “Westworld”- humans are inferior and expendable.

 The makers of “M3gan” know why you’re there and are more than happy to give it to you. Notoriously toning down the violence to make it scarier, the PG-13 rating instead of R is like art imitating life- allowing more kids to see “M3gan” means more box office money. Or, like me, toning it down brought out more of the sci-fi element than inherent horror.. Regardless, “M3gan” works because director Gerard Johnstone and writer Akeela Cooper provide a knowing wink with the audience (including homages to “E.T.” and “Aliens”) and place “M3gan’s” tongue firmly inside her rubberized cheek (showing Cady’s need for M3gan and technology’s power to replace our physical or emotional human connections).

 Like Da Vinci’s painting, depending upon which side you stand, you’ll see Mona Lisa smile or you won’t. Viewing “M3gan”as sci-fi and satire you may; as simply killer doll horror, you may not. Regardless, “M3gan” needed to be fantastically unbelievable to be fantastically fun.

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