M3GAN Review | Chucky and Annabelle Meet the 21st Century
2023’s year of doll movies is off to a bad start.
Could I have skipped this one? Why am I so tired? Should I go to the bathroom?
These are the questions I find myself asking when attending press screenings. These usually begin at 7 pm and after a long day preceding it, so it’s natural that I ask myself these questions as I stare blankly at what’s in front of me. Facing opposite me is a large screen filled with images from the film all of us in the auditorium are about to see and the social handles/hashtags associated with the film.
That’s how 99% of screenings go. M3GAN, however, turned that on its head because about 20 minutes before the film was about to start, the entire auditorium was collectively jump-scared by a pre-screening screen that moved. Our titular robot spoke to us! She thanked us all for watching her “documentary” on a 65-ft tall screen and gave a fair warning to all of those in attendance of the potential repercussions should anyone take their phone out during the screening.
I’m sad to report that this was the highlight of M3GAN — the latest misfire from Blumhouse; whose 2022 was a mixed bag ranging from good ideas (The Black Phone) to horrible franchise enders (Halloween Ends) and plenty of indie hits (Nanny). What happens when Chucky and Annabelle meet the 21st century? You get a film with one-note jokes and no thrills to speak of. It’s a case of one step forward in the doll horror subgenre and two steps back.
M3GAN begins with an ad for a children’s toy that looks eerily similar to SNL’s takes on various companies such as Target and Starbucks. This toy — the name of which is slipping my mind — is basically a Furby that poops when necessary. Cut to a family that is attempting to drive through a snowstorm. Cady (Violet McGraw — sister of The Black Phone’s standout Madeline McGraw) is sitting in the backseat and attached to her Furby-adjacent toy — feeding it endlessly from her tablet. Her parents both dislike the toy for different reasons, but that becomes the least of their problems after they get into a fatal car crash that leaves Cady alone.
Cady is then placed into the custody of her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) — an engineer at a toy company who’s really attached to her life-like doll idea and sick of designing the same old schlock (in this particular case it would be Furbys). But as every industry goes, if the cost of making the product and the price for families to buy it is too expensive (the doll will run you $10,000), is it worth the investment? That’s the question that Gemma’s boss David (Ronny Chieng clearly understood the assignment and tone of this film) poses throughout M3GAN.
David is a skeptic of this radical idea until the moment he watches M3GAN in action. The presentation that Gemma gives may not go completely as planned, but the doll puts on enough of a show for David to give the green light to this product.
But when Gemma is having a hard time connecting with her niece and sees the job come across her face at the sight of a robot she built in college, she decides to spend 100 bands on building the prototype and finishing M3GAN (played by Amie Donald and Jenna Davis provides the voice). But as the bevy of sci-fi films about A.I. and robots have taught us, you cannot trust them and M3GAN is no exception.
You see, when Gemma first builds M3GAN for her niece, it was meant as a temporary distraction/placeholder as she felt the squeeze from work. After all, Cady has been a shell of herself since the passing of her parents, and M3GAN nicely slotted into the type of warm figure Cady needed at the time. But there is such thing as getting too close to something, especially as M3GAN technically is an inanimate object (though programmed to be insentient), and the doll begins causing the typical mayhem that you come to expect in this genre all culminating in a ridiculously dumb final battle.
Therein lies the problem with M3GAN. We’ve already seen the story that plays out in Gerard Johnstone’s latest film. We all have come to expect the doll to hurt people and make the owners look bad unbeknownst to them, and the sassy one-liners delivered by Davis can only do so much in the film’s effort to make the titular doll more than one note. I’ll give M3GAN scribe Akela Cooper (who was also assisted by James Wan) some credit for updating this type of story to the 21st century with technology that doesn’t feel that far off, but the film rushes through its 100-minute runtime once M3GAN is introduced into the story (thanks to the guy sitting in front of me and his bright Apple Watch, I can tell you that this occurs about 23 minutes into the film) to get to the film’s third act which sees the toy company setting up a live-stream to reveal M3GAN to the world. Again, one step forward, two steps back.
And look, I know that I’m a stickler when it comes to PG-13 horror films, and M3GAN is a unique case. It’s much more in the vein of the Child’s Play films (especially the sequels) with its dosage of camp — M3GAN pays homage to Sam Raimi by suddenly shoehorning the “Raimi Zoom” into a few shots in one sequence— so perhaps expecting anything up to the level of another PG-13 horror flick that was actually scary, 2016’s Lights Out, was asking for disappointment, but even when it tries, M3GAN lacks any sort of tension whatsoever.
Much of this issue stems from the fact that anytime our titular doll is in action, you know that she’s simply going to kick butt and the scene will end. It’s almost like the Jason Voorhees situation in the Friday the 13th video game in that the counselors have no shot against this otherwordly being. It makes the game no fun to play when the odds are stacked so heavily against you, and the scares in M3GAN are about on par with anything you’d see in that video game.
And yes, there are jump scares in M3GAN. How else would a film rated PG-13 have any chance of keeping an audience awake? My biggest complaint with these types of scares that have become a mainstay in contemporary horror films is that they’ve become too predictable. Trust me, you won’t be surprised in the slightest when something pops out of a corner as a character opens a door slowly or walks down an empty hallway. Whether it was a theater issue or not, it certainly didn’t help that the jumpscares weren’t loud. The usage of loud sounds to enhance the jump scares is truly an eye-rolling tactic, but the ones in M3GAN had no second hit in what’s usually a 1-2 punch.
The PG-13 rating serves the film fine whenever M3GAN is slaughtering somebody — I don’t really need to see the doll stabbing someone or Quentin Tarantino-levels of gore — but you’re going to leave disappointed if you’re expecting any gnarly kills. I’ve read the interview where Johnstone talks about the PG-13 rating and how they “embraced” it, but I struggle to imagine what an R-rated version of this film looks like if this iteration is somehow scarier because the end result screams that this was a way to make the film more accessible to a wider demographic and more money at the box office.
It doesn’t feel great being a Grinch after the holiday season, but M3GAN just didn’t do it for me. I suppose I can see how the camp appealed to some, but most of the jokes missed — which especially hurts a film attempting to be a horror-comedy — and the lack of scares/tension severely hurt the fun of the film. And this film is far more concerned with having fun than actually tackling its themes of A.I. and the repercussions of allowing it to replace the roles of humans (for better or worse). In the battle of horror films with viral marketing horror movie campaigns, Smile wins by a landslide (though the DMs were a great idea). Can M3GAN win the battle of 2023 doll movies? Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is coming for that crown and does not have a high bar to clear.
Universal Pictures will release M3GAN in theaters on January 6.
Beau is Afraid – How Afraid Are We All?
What does it teach us about mental health?
This is not the first Ari Aster movie that has divided the audience’s opinions. However, this horror dark comedy taught us a perspective of mental health which is rarely portrayed let alone creatively. The film explores how the main character Beau Wasserman (Phoenix) needs to get home to visit his mother Mona Wasserman (LuPone).
As a character, Phoenix really devels into a character with body language by showing the fight and flight response. These emotions are depicted with great sensitivity and authenticity, shedding light on the debilitating impact they can have on one’s thoughts, perceptions, and overall well-being. The movie vividly illustrates the way in which excessive fear can warp an individual’s reality, leading to a distorted perception of the world around them.
Beau’s journey is marked by a sense of isolation and alienation. He becomes increasingly withdrawn from his loved ones and the outside world, trapped in his own inner turmoil. This portrayal highlights the isolating nature of mental health struggles, conveying the challenges faced by individuals who feel disconnected from others due to their anxiety or paranoia. The film serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy and support for those experiencing mental health difficulties.
The film employs a combination of visually stunning shots and clever camera angles to create a sense of unease and disorientation. The lighting and colour palette further enhance the eerie atmosphere, making even the most mundane scenes feel foreboding. The skilful use of sound design, particularly the haunting musical score, contributes to the overall sense of dread, effectively immersing the viewer in Beau’s growing paranoia.
“Beau is Afraid” also touches upon the impact of past trauma on one’s mental health. The character’s deep-rooted fears and anxieties are rooted
in a traumatic event from his past, which resurfaces and intensifies throughout the narrative. The film sensitively explores the long-lasting effects of trauma on an individual’s psyche and highlights the need for proper support and healing to address these wounds.
The film masterfully weaves together suspense, mystery, and psychological elements, keeping the audience on edge throughout. The pacing is deliberate, slowly building tension and raising questions that demand answers. As the story progresses, the plot twists and turns, constantly challenging the viewers’ perceptions and leaving them second-guessing what is real and what is merely a figment of Beau’s imagination.
One of the film’s central themes is the fragility of perception and the blurring of the line between reality and imagination. Beau’s growing paranoia leads him to question the authenticity of his experiences, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for both the character and the audience. This exploration of perception resonates with the complexities of mental health, where one’s own thoughts and fears can shape their understanding of the world. Beyond its surface-level thrills, “Beau is Afraid” delves into profound themes that resonate long after the credits roll.
The film explores the nature of fear, highlighting its power to consume and distort reality. It examines the effects of isolation and trauma on the human psyche, offering a thought-provoking commentary on the fragile nature of our perceptions. Symbolism is subtly incorporated throughout the film, adding depth to the storytelling and inviting further analysis.
By intertwining these elements, “Beau is Afraid” provides a compelling narrative that sheds light on the multifaceted nature of mental health challenges. It offers a poignant depiction of the psychological toll that anxiety, fear, and paranoia can have on an individual, highlighting the importance of understanding, compassion, and support for those grappling with such issues. Beau’s development is superb, with Phoenix delivering a standout performance that expertly captures the complex emotions and inner turmoil of his character. The supporting characters add depth to the story, each playing a crucial role in amplifying the tension and uncertainty. For fans of the genre, “Beau is Afraid” is an absolute must-watch, a chilling and engrossing cinematic journey that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Polite Society Review l Kick-Ass British South Asian Representation That’s Needed
It’s hard to think Nida Manzoor composed this remarkable and daring script while studying politics at the University College of London (UCL) 10 years ago. The film then premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the Glasgow Film Festival, where it earned rave reviews.
The film follows Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), a high school girl who dreams of becoming a stuntwoman. In London, Shephard Bush with her Pakistani Muslim family, including her older sister Lena Khan (Ritu Arya), who dropped out of art school. Ria is concerned not just about her Geography coursework, but also about her sister Lena’s engagement with Dr Salim Shah (Akshay Khanna). Ria has reservations about Salim and his evil mother (Nimra Bucha). Enlists the support of her high school pals Alba (Ella Bruccoleri) and Clara (Seraphina Beh) to save her sister and expose her opponents’ real colours.
Manzoor’s connection with her sister while practising martial arts inspired the writing. This took almost 10 years to master in order to guarantee Manzoor’s voice was fine-tuned throughout the plot and the characters.
However, this is not the only great script Manzoor has written, produced and directed. Channel 4 TV show We Are Lady Parts which also includes British Muslim Women’s representation was created by Manzoor and how they overcome the obstacles faced by them individually to come together to form a punk band.
Priya Kansara, the bright rising major actress who plays Ria Khan, was devoted to every single stunt in the film in order to understand Ria’s path of mastering her own material skills. Manzoor even refers to Kansara as the “next Tom Cruise,” citing how tough it was to perform the stunts while wearing hefty anarkalis. Tom Cruise is unlikely to be able to perform any of his stunts in Anarkalis.
Matthew Vaughn’s (Kick-Ass movies) and Edgar Wright’s (Scott Pilgrim vs. World) influence can be seen throughout the film, with parts of visible in the use of faux panels for stunts, title cards for chapter titles, and fluid transitions to keep you involved in the narrative. In addition to her tribute to Bollywood with music, dancing, and costumes, while having the primary ‘villain’ be depicted ostentatiously.
Overall, the film succeeds because it empowers South Asian women to choose their own paths and break out from the stereotyped mould that society (pun intended) and the media have traditionally represented them as. As a result, ultimately recognised via a family comedy action-packed film for being bold and courageous.
This is not one to be missed on the big screen at all so grab your tickets on 28th April and head down to the cinema to see Polite Society.
WWE 2K23 Review | Acknowledge It
German suplexes and Superman punches and spears, oh my!
This review was made possible by an advance copy of the WWE 2K23 Icon Edition. Thank you to 2K Games!
In a recent article, I used the expression, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” in the context of a sequel that attempted to replicate the success of its predecessor but ultimately failed to do so. The WWE 2K series has been filled with its ups and downs — WWE 2K20 is about as low as you can get — but WWE 2K22 was a massive step in the right direction after 2K took a year off between 2K20 and 2K22. And sometimes, a fresh coat of paint is all that’s required with a dash of improvements to make for a great game, and WWE 2K23 is proof of that.
Beginning with the gameplay, 2K23 remains very similar to last year’s game. The mechanics are all the same, which works since 2K22 was a nice return to simplicity and found a happy medium between arcade-like controls and simulation. I’ll never quite understand why 2K took out the chain grappling at the beginning of matches — I lapsed from WWE from 2K15 until 2K20 — but that would be something nice to have in the future since not every match begins with the pacing of a Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg. It would especially benefit the PLE main events that have a “big fight feel,” as Michael Cole likes to say as the crowd is going nuts and the wrestlers in the ring are going through the “feeling out” process.
The ability to have two Payback abilities is nice — for example, you can use the “Low Blow” and “Comeback” features and not have to choose between the two. It’s especially helpful in Universe Mode matches when you want to link together real spots.
Speaking of Universe Mode, much like the rest of the game, it looks quite similar to last year’s game. But one key addition is the new “Rivalry Actions.” While promos are still absent — something that would really bring this mode together — these scenarios allow players to choose certain scenarios to play out pre, post, or during a match. For example, you can extend a rivalry after a big match on a PLE (the option to choose the length of rivalries is no longer in the game), or you can choose a scenario like a post-match attack that’ll take a superstar out of action for a set amount of months. The scenario that plays out is decided by factors such as momentum in the rivalry, but there’s also an option for “Free Mode” which will allow you to choose which one happens.
The “Rivalry Actions” are a great addition to the game, giving new life to some of the cutscenes in previous WWE 2K installments while also bringing in a whole new batch of them. Promos would go the extra mile in making these storylines really come to life, but for now, the “Rivalry Actions” suffice.
But 2K23 is not without its bugs. Luckily, none of these are as bad as the lows of 2K20, and I’m sure they’ll be patched with time. The first is the managers and their unreliable nature. When I assign Paul Heyman as Roman Reigns’ manager, I expect to see him walk out with his Tribal Chief and utilize the amazing entrance specific to this combination. But half of the time, Reigns comes out alone and it’s incredibly frustrating. Or if you choose two managers, only one will come out more times than not.
The AI can also be incredibly frustrating. I play on “Legend” difficulty, as the disparity between “Hard” and “Legend” is massive with the former being too easy, but multi-man matches are more frustrating than in previous years. Take the Royal Rumble match, for instance, which has always been tough to nail. Even in 2K22, there’d be occasions where the AI opponents would randomly crash the party and break up your moves. In 2K23, the AI opponents never focus on one target and break up any move happening in the ring. It makes it frustrating if you’re trying to throw someone out and get interrupted by someone who was just fighting someone in the opposite corner. The “stunned” meter is back, but definitely expedited. I never had an issue with people in multi-man matches rolling out of the ring for a minute, but because of how quickly the meter moves, you hardly have a chance for a one-on-one encounter in the ring in multi-man matches. Sure, it moves the match along, but using your fifth finisher and not being able to go for a pin is incredibly frustrating.
The small details are what save the day. The biggest one that stands out is how the champions — who traditionally come to the ring last — will usually wait a moment before their music hits. It’s a tactic that Reigns usually uses in real life, and it’s cool to see it replicated here. That extra 10 seconds between the challenger and champion’s entrance makes the match feel special.
And massive props to the developers for nailing the aesthetics. Character models look great, but the arenas, and now stadiums, are what really catches my eye. It’s unlikely we’ll ever get the uber-long entrance ramp that WWE’s stadium shows like the Royal Rumble or SummerSlam have, but they adapted and nailed the stages of those shows and Clash at the Castle (the one I was most anticipating). A small nitpick from a New Yorker, the default stadium — which typically was just Metflife Stadium in previous games — now is Metlife Stadium with a roof like the Alamodome. Most won’t care or even notice, but it’s a thought that came to mind when playing through the PLEs.
New to the WWE 2K series is the WarGames match. Apparently, it has been around since the WCW days, but it’s been used more recently on NXT. Last year’s Survivor Series PLE rebranded and utilized the match in its opening and closing matches, but due to it taking place in November, it’s a welcomed surprise to have it not only in the game but playable in the Universe mode. For those unfamiliar with this match, the WarGames match is when two teams of either three or four in 2K23 face off. One member of the team is introduced at a time — giving one team an inherent disadvantage — but the official match doesn’t begin until all of the members of each team have entered the ring. It’s really fun just like the real-life version was in November. Hopefully, the WWE continues to utilize the match in real-life and the 2K games.
MyRise got a nice refresh with a story that hits the ground running. I think it has become clear that the idea of working your way up the ranks from the Performance Center is both tired and monotonous in video game form. Last year’s MyRise was brutal to get through; you had to do a certain amount of objectives before moving on to the next part of the story similar to what the NBA 2K’s MyGM has become.
This year’s Showcase mode is centered around John Cena. It’s a nice sign of self-awareness by 2K and Cena himself to allow for players to play as the opponents in these historical recreations given that “SuperCena” was a thing, and the developers once again nail the aesthetics to recreate all of Cena’s marquee moments. Hopefully, next year’s title will include a Bloodline Showcase.
MyGM got some updates, but controlling the shows is a lot less fun than the sandbox-like playstyle of Universe mode. You’re given a budget to control Raw or Smackdown, which is cool in theory, but outside of the draft, it’s hardly riveting. At least they came to their senses and added more than one-on-one matches to it.
The biggest dud of 2K23 has to be MyFaction. I’ve never been one for the Ultimate Team modes in the Fifa or Madden franchises or the NBA 2K’s equivalent, MyTeam, and I really don’t understand the appeal of a wrestling version of it outside of the updated aesthetics that certain models get since wrestlers change their outfits all the time and their in-game models usually stay stagnant.
One last miss for me is the new pin system. The button-mashing option is still there — though I would rather not break my $75 controller — so that leaves you with the new, refreshed timing option. In previous years you had to press the “X” or “A” button when the white bar reached the red area, this year it’s similar except that the red area moves. It obviously gets smaller and moves faster the more damage you’ve taken, and you have to flip the right stick up when in that area (though I just opt to use the “X” button regardless). It’s incredibly infuriating, which maybe is the point, but not being able to kick out after a signature move has made me as angry as Jey Uso when Sami Zayn turned his back on the Bloodline.
A common complaint with yearly sports video games is that they’re glorified “roster updates” (to be fair, roster updates are more important in wrestling games but I digress), but 2K23 is another big step in the right direction after 2K22 set the entire series back on track. 2K23 is a very “Ucey” and one that we all have to acknowledge.
WWE 2K23 is available now.
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