Review: ‘M3GAN,’ starring Allison Williams, Ronny Chieng and Violet McGraw

January 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Amie Donald and Violet McGraw (pictured at right) in “M3GAN” (Photo by Geoffrey Short/Universal Pictures)


Directed by Gerard Johnstone

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the horror film “M3GAN” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians ) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A robot doll with artificial intelligence goes on a rampage against anyone who harms the 8-year-old girl who thinks of the doll as her best friend.

Culture Audience: “M3GAN” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching predictable but entertaining horror movies about killer dolls.

Amie Donald, Allison Williams and Violet McGraw (pictured at right) in “M3GAN” (Photo by Geoffrey Short/Universal Pictures)

“M3GAN” (pronounced “megan”) can now join the 1988 “Child’s Play” movie (which introduced the murderous Chucky toy doll) as one of the all-time most memorable “killer doll” movies, gaining legions of fans and inspiring countless horror costumes. “M3GAN” is the type of movie that you know instantly is the start of a franchise. It’s a campy, creepy and comical horror romp that delivers more laughs than genuine scares. Audiences should be in on the joke, which loses its impact with a somewhat weak ending. However, the killer doll’s sinister sassiness is worth seeing.

Directed by Gerard Johnston and written by Akela Cooper, “M3GAN” doesn’t go down the usual supernatural route to explain why the killer doll is so evil. Instead, “M3GAN” is a tale of human-made technology run amok. In that sense, the story is grounded in a reality and a persistent fear that technology with artificial intelligence will develop a mind of its own and do widespread damage. In this case, the damage is done by a 4-foot-tall terror doll named M3GAN, an acronym for Model 3 Generative Android. “M3GAN” also has social commentary on the effects of relying heavily on technology instead of human interactions for handling child care, learning, and developing relationships with other people.

“M3GAN” begins by showing a commercial for automated, furry toy pets called Purrpetual Pets, which can receive commands from mobile devices. The Seattle-based company that makes these toys is named Funki, which considers Hasbro to be one of its biggest rivals. One of the kids who has a Purrpetual Pet is an 8-year-old girl named Cady (played by Violet McGraw), who is playing with a dog version of a Purrpetual Pet in the back seat of a car while her parents are in the front seat.

Cady, her father Ryan (played by Arlo Green) and her mother Nicole (played by Chelsie Preston Crayford) are traveling by car for a family ski trip. It’s snowing heavily outside. Nicole is slightly annoyed by how Cady is so preoccupied with her Purrpetual Pet toy because Cady would rather talk to the toy than talk to her parents. Nicole comments, “What is the purpose of the toy if you have to play it on an iPad?”

The show is coming down so thick that Ryan (who’s driving) temporarily stops the car and doesn’t see the snow truck that plows head-on into the car. Ryan and Nicole die in this accident, while Cady survives. Cady is sent to live with Nicole’s sister Gemma (played by Allison Williams), who lives in Seattle and becomes Cady’s legal guardian. (“M3GAN” was actually filmed in Montreal in Canada, and in the Auckland area of New Zealand.) Gemma, who is single with no biological kids, works as a roboticist at Funki, and was one of the chief creators of Purrpetual Pets. In fact, Cady’s Purrpetual Pet was a gift from Gemma.

It’s an awkward life transition for this aunt and niece. Gemma is a workaholic who has no experience in raising a child. Cady is still grieving over her parents’ death. The movie doesn’t show Gemma grieving too much because Gemma is portrayed as someone who buries her troubles by working at her job. Now that Gemma has become Cady’s guardian, Gemma has to figure out a way for them to adjust to their new living situation.

Cady was homeschooled when her parents were alive. Gemma has to work during the day, so she has to find a local school that will fit Cady’s needs. Later in the movie, Gemma and Cady have an orientation visit to an alternative school that likes to teach classes outdoors. In the meantime, Gemma has to partially work from home to look after Cady. Gemma doesn’t want Cady to feel bored or restless.

To help Cady with her grief and new life transition, Cady has counseling sessions with a therapist named Lydia (played by Amy Usherwood), who is kind and patient with Cady. There’s another reason why this therapist is working with Cady: The parents of Cady’s deceased father Ryan are thinking about taking full custody of Cady. Lydia is evaluating Cady and Gemma to determine if Gemma can be a better guardian than the grandparents.

Because Cady has lost her parents and doesn’t have any friends in Seattle, Cady is understandably a very mopey child. It just so happens that Gemma has been working on a prototype for the M3GAN doll, which she shows to her co-workers Cole (played by Brian Jordan Alvarez) and Tess (played by Jen Van Epps) in their work space. They are all under pressure to come up with a hot-selling new toy because a rival company has copied the Purrpetual Pets toys and selling them for half the price of Funki’s retail sale price.

The CEO of Funki is an egotistical, impatient and frequently rude taskmaster named David Lin (played by Ronny Chieng), who is often accompanied by his “yes man” assistant Kurt (played by Stephane Garneau-Monten), who is usually nervous and jumpy. Kurt’s resentment over being treated like a doormat comes out in later in the story. David and Kurt attend a demonstration of how M3GAN works in the office space of Gemma, Tess and Cole, but the demonstration is a disaster: Cole forgot to put in a polypropylene barrier in M3GAN, so the doll’s head catches on fire and explodes. (No one is hurt in this accident.)

Meanwhile, at Gemma’s home, Cady is curious about the boxed toys that Gemma has on display, but Gemma tells Cady that Cady can’t play with the toys because they are collectibles. Cady is dejected until Gemma shows Cady a robot named Bruce that Gemma keeps in her garage. The robot can walk and talk. Cady is immediately entranced and tells Gemma: “If I had a toy like Bruce, I don’t think I’d ever need another toy again.”

And you know what that means: Gemma and her co-workers fast-track making M3GAN into a toy that will be sold as Funki’s most technologically advanced toy so far. The timing couldn’t come soon enough, because a worried Tess tells Gemma that David can’t find out they spent $100,000 on research and development money on M3GAN before M3GAN was approved. It should come as no surprise that Cady is chosen as the first child who gets to test out M3GAN before the Funki does an official launch of this new toy.

M3GAN, who looks like a girl but acts like an adult, has encyclopedic knowledge of facts and knows all the right things to say in dealing with people’s feelings. M3GAN also has an ability to record and mimic voices. This robotic doll appears to be the perfect combination of a tutor, babysitter and best friend for lonely Cady. In what seems to be a pattern for Cady, she becomes instantly attached to M3GAN, just like Cady was attached to her Purrpetual Pet.

M3GAN also sings pop songs to comfort Cady. These singing scenes are some of the funniest in the movie. If you waited your whole life to see an evil robotic doll sing David Guetta’s “Titanium” to cheer up a girl, and then the doll unleashes some murderous mayhem just minutes later to “protect” the girl, then “M3GAN” is the movie for you.

Why is M3GAN overly protective of Cady? During the testing process, Gemma gave this programming order to M3GAN: Protect Cady from all physical and emotional harm. Of course, this order backfires in the worst ways. Gemma finds out too late that M3GAN has superhuman physical strength along with superhuman intelligence.

Cady also becomes overly attached to M3GAN and doesn’t want to go anywhere without this doll. Cady is so fixated on M3GAN being her “friend,” Cady throws nasty temper tantrums if M3GAN can’t be with Cady at all times. If Cady is separated from M3GAN, Cady acts like an addict being told that the addict can’t have whatever is causing their addiction.

And because this is a horror movie, some of the characters get caught in the crossfire of the havoc that M3GAN wreaks. Gemma’s next-door neighbor Celia (played by Lori Dungey) gets on Gemma’s nerves because Celia has a problematic dog and has a habit of spraying unwanted pesticide on Gemma’s front lawn. At the alternative school, it doesn’t take long for a child bully named Brandon (played by Jack Cassidy) to target Cady.

Williams and McGraw are perfectly fine in their performances as Gemma and Cady, but they have both done versions of these characters in other horror movies. Chieng looks like he’s having fun hamming it up as David, the boss from hell. All the other supporting characters are adequate in their roles.

The real star of the movie, of course, is the character of M3GAN. The M3GAN character is a combination of work from actresses Amie Donald (who does the live-action work) and Jenna Davis (who does the voice work), as well as the work of the movie’s visual effects team. The facial expressions, body language and sarcastic comments of M3GAN show that this dangerous doll has a mind of its own. It’s often hilarious to watch other characters react to M3GAN when they figure out this that M3GAN is not a harmless toy.

One of the biggest flaws of “M3GAN” is that M3GAN doesn’t make her debut as a fully designed talking toy until about 30 minutes into 102-minute movie. And if you’ve seen the trailers for “M3GAN,” you’ve already seen some of the best parts of the movie. All of this might diminish viewer enjoyment of “M3GAN,” but these flaws don’t ruin the movie. “M3GAN” is by no means the best horror movie you can see in a year, but it’s the type of horror movie where people will get hooked enough to want to see the chief villain in other movies.

Universal Pictures released “M3GAN” in U.S. cinemas on January 6, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on January 24, 2023. Peacock will premiere “M3GAN” (including an unrated version of the movie) on February 24, 2023. The movie (including the unrated version) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Trust’ (2021), starring Victoria Justice, Matthew Daddario, Katherine McNamara and Lucien Laviscount

March 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Victoria Justice and Matthew Daddario in “Trust” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Trust” (2021)

Directed by Brian DeCubellis

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in Paris, the dramatic film “Trust” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, Latinos and black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An art gallery owner and her TV journalist husband are both suspicious of and tempted by possibilities that they could cheat on each other.

Culture Audience: “Trust” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic stories about marital problems that have all the characteristics of a mediocre made-for-TV movie.

Lucien Laviscount in “Trust” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

People who watch the dramatic film “Trust” might be wondering why this conventional and trite movie wasn’t made for the Lifetime network. The only difference between “Trust” and a Lifetime movie is that “Trust” has some curse words that can’t be in a Lifetime movie. The entire story is as predictable as you might expect. The plot twist in the movie isn’t too surprising.

The entire plot of “Trust” (directed by Brian DeCubellis) revolves around a topic that’s a familiar staple of Lifetime movies: A woman begins to wonder if her husband or boyfriend is keeping secrets from her. In the case of “Trust,” the doubts are about marital fidelity. The entire film would have been more entertaining if there weren’t such long stretches of dullness and if the movie had a more talented cast of actors.

In “Trust,” the New York City married couple at the center of the drama are Brooke Gatwick (played by Victoria Justice) and Owen Shore (played by Matthew Daddario), who are going through a big transition in their lives. Brooke has quit her job at auction house Sotheby’s to open her own self-titled art gallery. It’s a major gamble because Brooke and Owen have poured their entire life savings into the gallery.

Owen is a TV news anchor at a local station, but he’s become bored by all the “soft” news stories (such as dog weddings) that he’s been given to report. He completely supports Brooke’s career ambitions. But Brooke is insecure about Owen’s job situation because he’s surrounded by attractive young women who work with him as producers or other employees. It isn’t made clear how long Brooke and Owen (who are in their late 20s or early 30s) have been married, but they have been a couple since they were in high school.

The opening scene of “Trust” is a sex scene where viewers don’t see the faces of who’s having sex, but it’s clear that it’s a man and a woman. It’s a foreshadowing of what happens later in the movie, when it’s revealed who these sex partners are. While they’re going at it, someone’s phone is on a nearby table. Someone else is sending text messages that are going unanswered on that phone.

The next scene shows Brooke coming home from a business trip that she took in Paris. She looks exhausted. Owen and Brooke hug and tell each other, “I missed you.” It’s revealed later in the movie that Brooke was in Paris to sell some art by an up-and-coming Irish painter named Ansgar Doyle (played by Lucien Laviscount), whom Brooke has paid to relocate to New York City. Brooke is also acting as Ansgar’s official agent.

Laviscount, who is British in real life, tries very hard to be sexy in this role, but his terrible Irish accent is very distracting and almost laughable. Most of the time, he sounds British, and a few times he sounds as if he’s bungling an Italian accent. Based on what happens in this movie, the character of Ansgar didn’t have to be Irish.

It shows bad decision making from the “Trust” filmmakers that they didn’t just let Laviscount keep his natural British accent. No one watching this movie will care what nationality Ansgar is, but they will care if the acting is good or not. It’s not.

Ansgar, whose specialty is sexually themed art, is the first artist whose work is showcased in Brooke’s gallery when it opens. He was a Dublin street artist who was starting to make a name for himself in Europe, but Brooke “discovered” him online and decided that she’s going to make him a star in the United States. Ansgar is arrogant and an obvious playboy.

You know where this is going. And if isn’t obvious enough that Ansgar is going to try and seduce Brooke, his first exhibit at her gallery is titled “Sexual Truth and the Myth of Fidelity.” It’s a series of painted portraits of women who are completely naked.

The first time that viewers see Ansgar, he’s at Brooke’s gallery for a photo shoot and an interview for an unnamed publication. He’s being interviewed by a journalist named Diana (played by Nathalie Carvalho), as he lounges on a chair with his legs spread in a suggestive manner. During the interview, Ansgar brags that he’s slept with all of the models whose nude portraits he’s painted.

Diana asks him, “Is that moral?” Ansgar smirks as he replies, “Why? Are you a model?” When Diana asks him if his art is just all about sex, Ansgar responds, “I only paint those women that are particularly special to me. It’s intimate, sexual, yes. But it’s more than that. It’s the exact moment of ultimate connection that’s captured forever in the painting.”

Watching this interview nearby are Brooke and Owen. As soon as Ansgar starts talking about sleeping with his models, Brooke get uncomfortable. She steps in and cuts the interview short and tells Diana, “No personal questions.”

Diana takes Brooke aside and gives her opinion of Ansgar and his art, “Look, Brooke, he’s brilliant. But as your friend, I’m calling it. The other critics will tear this apart.”

Brooke replies with a certain amount of pretension: “Picasso, Klimt, Lucian Freud—they were all called pornographers. Look, I know what I believe in. And if the critics don’t understand this, then they’re wrong!”

Meanwhile, Ansgar stands next to Owen as they watch Brooke. Ansgar tells Owen that Brooke is hot. Ansgar then adds with his usual smirk, “When women get absorbed in me, you can’t talk to them.” Owen has an expression on his face as if to say, “I can’t believe this clown just said that out loud, but whatever.”

After leaving the gallery, Brooke and Owen have dinner at a Chinatown restaurant with another married couple, who are their closest friends. Adam (played by Ronny Chieng) and Eleanor (played by Lindsey Broad) are both divorce attorneys who are cynical about marriage except their own. For example, Adam and Eleanor tell Brooke and Owen that almost all marriages experience infidelity at one point or another.

The dinner is to celebrate the opening of Brooke’s gallery, and the two couples raise their glasses to toast Brooke. However, Owen chimes in that he deserves a toast too because he thinks Brooke’s gallery will be such a success that Owen half-jokingly says that he will get to “retire early and fulfill my life’s purpose to be a trophy husband.”

The conversation gets a little bit uncomfortable when Eleanor comments that Ansgar is a “hunk” and asks if Owen is okay with Brooke working so closely with him. Adam and Eleanor then rudely talk about how they’ve learned as divorce attorneys that “everyone cheats” in marriages. It’s a buzzkill turn of the conversation for Brooke and Owen.

Do Brooke and Owen have a perfect marriage? Of course not, because there would be no “Trust” movie if they did. Brooke sometimes checks Owen’s phone or iPad when he’s not looking. She questions him if she sees a woman’s name whom Brooke doesn’t recognize. For example, when Owen gets a text from a woman named Susan, Brooke asks Owen who it is, and he says it’s a new co-worker.

But something happens that deepens a crack in Owen and Brooke’s marriage. It’s close to the Christmas holidays, and Owen surprises Brooke with plane tickets for both of them to spend Christmas in Paris. However, Brooke declines the offer when she says that she’ll be too busy with her art gallery work.

And this raises Owen’s eyebrows: Brooke says she also doesn’t want to go to Paris because she doesn’t want to be too far away from Ansgard, who’s never lived in the U.S. before. “He needs me!” Brooke tells Owen, who tries not to get jealous and angry at this remark. Owen expresses disappointment in Brooke’s decision, but ultimately he says that he understands.

Not long after Brooke tells Owen that she doesn’t want to go to Paris, she gets some news that changes her mind. Ansgar tells her that a famous movie director named Damien Light wants to buy some of Ansgar’s art. Damien is filming a movie in Paris, and Ansgar says the best way to seal this art deal is to go to Paris for a meeting that’s set to take place in two days.

At first, Brooke says that she can’t go because she’s too busy and can’t afford the trip. Ansgar says that he’s going with or without her. Brooke then has a conversation with Eleanor, who tells Brooke that she would be crazy not to go to Paris for this trip. And so, Brooke relents and agrees to go to Paris with Ansgar.

Brooke goes to the TV station where Owen works. And when he’s on a break, she brings him coffee and tells him the news that she’s going on a weekend trip to Paris with Ansgar. When Owen hears about it, he’s understandably upset, even though Brooke swears the trip is strictly business.

As “revenge,” Owen announces to the staffers nearby that he’s now available to take a work trip to Las Vegas that same weekend to cover a Christmas event hosted by The New Yorker. A young and attractive female producer cheers and says she and the other women want to sit near Owen on the plane. And now, it’s Brooke’s turn to feel jealous.

Ansgar is an egotistical jerk, but in a movie like this, he’s supposed to be a “bad boy” some women can’t resist. There are hints that Brooke is attracted to and/or intrigued by Ansgar. For example, she doesn’t immediately pull away when he stands too close to her, or when he puts his hands on her legs or on her back, very close to her rear end. Before Brooke leaves for her Paris trip, Owen notices that she’s packed a very slinky red dress. Brooke tells Owen that he has to be understanding.

Owen and Adam have drinks together at a bar during the first night that Brooke is away in Paris. While they’re minding their own business, a pretty blonde in her 20s approaches Owen and says she recognizes him from TV. She introduces herself as Amy (played by Katherine McNamara), and she says she’s a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Amy mentions that she’s an aspiring TV news journalist and that she admires Owen, even if she doesn’t agree with some of his journalistic opinions. She acts very star-struck and asks Owen for his autograph and if she can take a photo with him. He’s surprised and flattered, so he willingly obliges.

It soon becomes clear from Amy’s flirtations that she wants more than career advice from Owen, who tells her that he’s married. Amy doesn’t seem to care that Owen has a wife. Meanwhile, Adam nervously drops hints that he doesn’t want to stick around for any infidelity shenanigans. He makes an excuse to leave and asks Owen if he wants to leave with him. How Owen handles this situation is the catalyst for the rest of the drama in the story.

“Trust” over-uses a technique of repeating a scene as a flashback or as a flashforward to show how the scene takes on a different meaning once certain secrets are revealed. The movie is based on Kristen Lazarian’s play “Push,” and this flashback/flashforward technique works better in a movie than it would in a play. However, all of this time-jumping in “Trust” (whose screenplay was written by Lazarian, DeCubellis and K.S. Bruce) comes across as clunky storytelling.

There are some plot developments in “Trust” that are unnecessary and not very well-constructed. For example (and it isn’t spoiler information to say this), Owen’s business trip to Las Vegas is never seen or mentioned again, even though it was set up to look like it would be a possible opportunity for him to cheat on Brooke. It doesn’t make sense to have an entire scene of Owen deciding to take this trip when it’s a plot development that’s then ignored.

There are plot holes galore. For example, one of the suspicious spouses goes to the trouble of tracking a rideshare that the other spouse took late one night. It’s later revealed in the movie what that spouse was doing sneaking out so late at night. But the way the truth is revealed is so common-sense basic that the snooping spouse should have found out the truth sooner.

As for the acting, Justice has a few good scenes as the conflicted Brooke, but Justice and Daddario have a “Ken and Barbie doll” type of chemistry that comes across as too plastic. Some of their acting together is monotonous, with awkward pauses. The Adam and Eleanor characters are very smug and grating (especially when they seem to take pleasure in other people’s marriages going bad), but Broad shows more talent in her acting than Chieng does.

Laviscount is woefully miscast for the reasons stated above, and he is in serious need of more acting lessons. His Ansgard character tries too hard to be sexy, which actually makes him very unsexy. It doesn’t help that Ansgard’s costume design includes Ansgard wearing a fur coat and gold chain, as if he’s trying to look like some kind of pimp. And unfortunately, McNamara (who co-starred with Daddario in the Freeform fantasy drama series “Shadowhunters”) is cast as a stereotypical blonde seductress in “Trust,” so she doesn’t have much depth to work with for her Amy character.

The last 20 minutes of “Trust” are a rush job that sloppily crams certain things into the plot to quickly resolve the conflicts in the story. Up until a certain point in the movie, viewers are kept guessing over whether or not Brooke cheated, Owen cheated, or both of them cheated. But by the end of the movie, the only people who should feel cheated are those who wasted their time watching this tedious and unoriginal film.

Vertical Entertainment released “Trust” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 12, 2021.

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