M3GAN (2022)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of M3GAN.

M3GAN (2022)

If James Wan has kids, I feel sorry for them because the man clearly has an issue with dolls in the house. From Dead Silence, to the Annabelle films and now M3GAN, the poor man clearly has some residual childhood trauma based around a doll of some sort.

As a younger sibling, I bet he has an older sister!

M3GAN was written by Akela Cooper, who wrote Malignant (which I really liked) based on Wan’s story, and was directed by Gerard Johnstone, who also directed the quirky New Zealand horror tale Housebound and tells of 9 year old Cady (Violet McGraw), who lost her parents in a tragic car accident and has been made the ward of her aunt, Gemma (Allison Williams) who works for the toy company, Funki and is the creator of the popular app-based toy, PerPetual Pets.

Gemma (Allison Williams) isn’t very good at life, real or artificial

Gemma is somewhat of a loner and is ill-prepared for parenthood, and so she revisits her design for a virtual friend called ‘M3GAN’ (Amie Donald as the body, Jenna Davis as the voice and various special effects models) whom she imprints Cady onto so they can become best of friends. M3GAN’s programming allows her to grow and adapt to her environment, and her AI adjusts to suit the owner’s needs, including education and protection.

Cady (Violet McGraw)

Unfortunately, Cady becomes far too dependent on M3GAN, and more worryingly, M3GAN’s comprehension of her ‘protective’ programming becomes far more literal and those who hurt or cross Cady end up in M3GAN’s crosshairs, with deadly results…

Model 3 Generative Android aka M3GAN

The film sits firmly in those ‘evil doll’ sub-genre of horror films, even though the technological aspect probably is rarer than the ‘possessed by a demon’ idea as in Annabelle or Dolly Dearest. It doesn’t offer much new, as in the threat of the doll is the cornerstone of the story, and even the technological aspect has been used before in things like Small Soldiers, and more recently in 2019’s Child’s Play remake.

I feel this film really is influenced by what I’ve observed in working retail and the way some parents parent their children these days. The misunderstanding of Gemma of what it is to be to be a parent, and to just hand a child something like an iPad and hope they are ok is so prevalent in society that to me, it’s borderline child abuse. Some children are so absorbed with their devices that they no longer become aware of an outside world: I work in a toy store and it horrifies me when I see kids not look up from their screens to look at the toys.

The cast in this film are a perfect fit. McGraw is comfortable in her role as a child… funnily enough she is one… and manages the emotional movement from mourning to obsessive as a more mature actor would. Williams, who I loved in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, is fabulous in her clearly out of her depth sudden parent role, who is not managing to maintain a work/ life balance. A special shout out has to go to Ronny Chieng as David, Gemma’s boss who quite frankly, is a massive arsehole, and he plays it to a T: that ambition Xennial type who sacrifices relationships for financial status.

The real winner cast member though is M3GAN herself. The special effects are fabulous and the menacing looks from what is essentially a blank slate shows a subtlety that stands above. The physical presence of Donald with some of the strange dances and bodily contortions really speak to the characterisation as well. Davis’ voice talents as M3GAN’s again, like the face, have a underlying threat to almost everything she says.

The character is such a striking image that the use of her in the viral Tik Tok-styled dance advertising was the perfect storm of weird and hard to look away from.

The film also seems to be lining up a couple of toy companies, even actually the entire toy industry, in its sights, from the frankly crass advertisement that the film opens with for the PerPetual Pet that emulates the awful fad toys that toy companies continue to force upon parents, especially with the advent of influencers who are claiming to be anti-corporate or ‘green’ whilst showing off the latest piece of plastic crap they were ‘gifted’ by the companies for ‘review purposes’, to what seems to be the direct targeting of Funko, of Funko Pop (TM) fame, with the company name ‘Funki’.

I wanted to like this film, and I believe I have a simmering affection for it due to the characters rather than the story, which let’s face it, is simply too late! As mentioned before, the remake of Child’s Play in 2019 certainly offered the idea of a fully interactive electronic toy as the villain and even though the much-loved Aubrey Plaza and Mark Hamill are in it, it was poorly received. This is certainly a better film than that but that doesn’t make it a good film, thoigh it is a fun and easy-to-watch distraction with some solid performances.

This disc comes with two different versions of the film, a theatrical, and the incorrectly named ‘Unrated’ version (incorrectly named as it quite clearly says <MA15+> on the cover) which has a little more gore and a few extra bits of swearing, because you know, the difference between a film for adults and one for teenagers is how often the word ‘fuck’ is said. Ridiculous. Funnily enough, the unrated, gorier version is shorter because with the gore added back in, the scenes of tension didn’t need to be in place so those scenes are shorter.

The menu screen to the Bluray release of M3GAN

Disc: There are only three extras on this disc:

A New Vision of Horror is the occasionally slightly embarrassing ‘oh, he’s the master of modern horror’ pieces that these things have on them.

Bringing life to M3GAN looks at the special effects and the young artist who played the title role, and how the rest of the cast reacted to them.

Getting Hacked is not about you PC, but a look an the gore and violence in the film and how it was executed.

This film was reviewed on the Australian Bluray release, purchased from JB Hifi.

M3GAN on the workbench

Smile (2022)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Smile

Smile (2022)

Trauma is a terrible thing and can effect the lives of people who witness or suffer from some kind of event permanently. Horror films are your best source of finding characters flawed by what ever it was that came to them and essentially broke them. These characters with trauma in them will do either doing one of two things: try to escape the trauma that effected them, like in the Nightmare on Elm St films where the parents choose to ignore their murder of paedophile child-killer Freddy Krueger, or they embrace it, like in the original Friday the 13th where Mrs Voorhees deals with the death of her son by murdering other kids, spreading her pain amongst many.

This film, Smile, based on the short film Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn is certainly a film about trauma, both historical family trauma, and the horrific trauma of a supernatural event.

Susie Bacon as Rose Cotter

Smile tells of psychiatrist, Rose Cotter (Susie Bacon) a passionate hospital psychiatrist who attempts to help a freshly arrived impatient, Laura (Caitlin Stasey) who claims to be being followed by an entity that can appear as anyone and has a horrifying smile. Laura’s has what seems to be a seizure and her behaviour causes a vase to be knocked over, she quickly recovers and smiles weirdly at Rose just before slicing her own throat open with a broken piece of the vase.

Caitlin Stasey as Laura

Laura had shared that she had felt this way since saw someone commit suicide by beating themselves to death with a hammer, whilst smiling, and this clue causes Rose to befriend police officer Joel (Kyle Gallner) who is her only help after she starts hallucinating, and alienating her boyfriend, Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), her sister Holly (Gillian Zisner) and her family.

Results of a hammer-based suicide

Together, they start to investigate the mystery of the smiling suicides, and after she is forced to take leave from work for erratic behaviour, she has plenty of time to do so, but the worse the hallucinations get, the more deranged she becomes. Will she survive whatever it is that is happening to her?

The first thing that really struck me about this film was the absolutely magnificent cinematography of every scene. First, some of the tracking shots are a magnificent combination of photography and CGI. One that springs to mind is when the character of Laura is admitted to the hospital, the camera looks down at her ambulance pulling up and her being extracted from it, then tracks up the building before becoming parallel to a window, which it then enters and a new scene begins. It’s almost seamless and a great segue. Finn also has this great sense of mise-en-scêne in so much as everything in the film is so deliberately placed and the choreography of each scene has a great sense of distance and segregation; was this due to covid? Perhaps, but it also increased the sense of solitude for the main character.

There was a lot of brave choices made, perhaps through the same reason, but there are so many facial close ups of the cast. It’s a brave choice for the cast to agree to have their faces appear on screen so big as modern cameras don’t allow for any imperfections to be hidden, but it also is to great effect, and the just a position of the agoraphobic images of distance mixed with the claustrophobia of the close ups keep the audience unsettled.

I think the cast are fantastic in the film with only one exception. Bacon is fabulous and her descent from highly-motivated professional to seemingly deranged person is palpable. Both male leads Usher and Gallner play their parts to a T, and even when they appear in various delusions they are solid. The highlights for me were Rose’s therapist, played by Robin Weigert, whose smile even haunts MY dreams and Caitlin Stasey, who played Laura, the first person encountered with ‘the problem’ who is so catlike in her skittishness that her fear can be tasted! My only disappointment in the film was, in my mind, the miscast Kal Penn, an actor who in some roles I thoroughly enjoy, but he seemed out of place here somehow.

The look and the design of the film are solid, and the soundtrack by Cristobal Tapia de Veer keeps the viewer on edge the entire time. The film has a really great two first acts, but starts to fall apart at the in the third. I don’t know exactly what I would have done different though, as normally I may have an idea of how I would prefer a film to end, but I just cannot put my finger on it. Maybe if I watch it a few more times I will be able to work it out, but for now, I would rather watch something like It Follows again, a similar in theme film that worked far better in my mind.

The menu screen from the Australian Bluray release of Smile

Disc: There’s a nice collection of extras on this Blu-ray Disc:

The Commentary by writer/ director Parker Finn is fascinating as it’s always great to listen to a commentary by someone who clearly loves the genre and what they have accomplished.

Something’s Wrong With Rose is an actual making of (and not a ten minute self appreciating love fest like many of them) that goes for almost 30 minutes and discusses the evolution of the short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, starring Lew Temple and Caitlin Stasey, especially considering it was during the pandemic (remember that thing) that preproduction started.

Flies on the Wall: Inside the Score is some dialogue-less images of how the sounds used for the soundscapes in the soundtrack were created. Akin to films like Saw, these are less music and more moods created with various atypical instruments to what a traditional music score would be. On the The Black Film Bluray, Scott Derrickson describes the soundtrack to his film as ‘childhood trauma’… Cristobal Tapia de Veer, the composer of this film has done the same thing, but different. As a soundtrack on vinyl collector I appreciate the moods created, but I couldn’t imagine ever listening just to the soundtrack.

There are two deleted scenes, one a far too long scene where Rose has a panic attack and sees ‘something’, and the other has Rose talking to Joel after visiting a victim of the thing. The first scene reveals the threat far too early in the film and would have lessened the impact of it, and the second is a two minute bit of fluff, character development that shows off the acting chops of the two leads but is unnecessary really in the grander scope of the film. Both scenes have commentary by Finn.

Laura Hasn’t Slept is the short film written and directed by Finn, starring Lew Temple and Caitlin Stasey about a young woman visiting her psychiatrist because she is afraid of sleeping, but finds that all is not what it seems. It’s a well cast and beautifully made short film that for just didn’t quite cut it as far as the story goes. Yes, I appreciate that there’s not going to be indepth character development in a ten minute film, but it’s more a card trick: what you have been presented with initially isn’t actually what’s happening and at the end you go ‘huh, clever’ and the impression left is the skill of the magician, not the content of the trick.

This film was reviewed with the Australian released Bluray purchased from Jb Hifi.

Rose’s Mum definitely does NOT have it going on.

The Menu (2022)

The cover the the Australian Bluray release of The Menu

The Menu (2022)

It’s weird how some movies can be sold to you by your friends and colleagues.

I had vaguely heard about The Menu, and being my workplaces ‘horror guy’, I was constantly being asked if I had seen it, and if I’m honest, I resisted because I was being told how good it was by people who think The Conjuring and Insidious are horror high-points, which I do not!

I did have two people offer me advice that I did take though. One was my daughter, and considering I moulded her love of horror, I trust her opinions, and the other comment was a single sentence that should have been the tagline: Two X-men and Luigi Mario Vs Voldemort.

I’m joking of course. The Menu had actually been on my radar for a while. After the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, I had fallen in love with Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult is someone I am a fan of as well. The concept of Ralph Fiennes playing a hyper-obsessed celebrity chef also hit high on my ‘interest-o-meter’.

The film was directed by Mark Myloid, who directed episodes of Shameless and Game of Thrones, as well as the Ali G Indahouse and was written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, both of whom have a varied history working on late night and comedy shows, and the dry sense of humour and parody is certainly in full effect in this film.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot

The Menu tells of Tyler (Hoult) as obsessed foodie who, along with his partner, Margot (Taylor-Joy) have managed to secure a reservation at the very exclusive restaurant, Hawthorn, a restaurant on an island by executive chef, Chef Julian Slowik (Fiennes) and his staff who live on the secluded island, and forage for food in the immediate environment. Along with other guests, they make their way by boat.

Ralph Fiennes as Chef Julian Slowik

Else (Hong Chau) the severe maître d’hôtel, offers all the guests a tour of the island, pointing out that Margot is not Tyler’s original guest, and questions her reasons for being on the island.

The guests take their seats and the food starts appearing, with an explanation as to its reason for existence by Chef Slowik. The food is pompous and part of the chef’s greater plan for the evening, but it is not to Margot’s taste, and her lack of respect for the dishes is intruding on Tyler’s enjoyment.

The dinner continues and is an extreme degustation, with obviously made-for-the-art-rather-than-the-taste (and also contains some scandalous revelations), but when one of the young sous-chef commits suicide as part of the spectacle of the fourth course, in front of the guests, the whole event takes a sudden, but not unexpected, left turn.

Beautiful food styling and cinematography, and a wry description

To say I was surprised by how much I liked this film is an understatement. Whilst I can’t see it being a regular rewatcher, it certainly is a film that simmers its horrific elements of obsession, murder and death with a drop of poking fun at foodies and celebrity chef culture… perhaps all sub-cultures that end up with obsessive fanbases to great effect.

The thing about being obsessive is the ritual of obsession. Most people who have an obsession receive a dopamine hit from the ritual of obtaining ‘the thing’ rather than the actual thing itself, and this film certainly delves into that, and using a meal, which is a ritual as well, with its food prep, setting of the table, sitting at ‘your’ seat, et cetera, is the perfect scenario.

The design of the film is so well thought out as everything on the island that Slowik’s restaurant sits is representative of his personality, as is the food he serves. Apparently the director kept two camera running at all times, and all the cast were on set constantly so the background constantly was an organic thing.

The direction on this film is truly remarkable. The actors seem to have been given a lot of leeway to try new things and it certainly makes for a living breathing thing, rather than a series of set pieces. So often even though he has a foreground thing happening, the actors in the background are still being effected by a previous event.

The actor all certainly rise to their roles too. Hoult and Taylor-Joy are magnificent in their roles, and as their relationship is revealed, their attitudes towards each other become more apparent. The other diners are all fabulous in their roles as well, from the bored rich wife Judith Day to the has-been actor John Leguizamo, they all sit wonderfully as ingredients in this film. Fiennes sits on top of this heap as the master of events and he truly commands every scene he is in, both as actor and character.

Special note must go to Chau as the cold Maître D Elsa, truly a revelation in her role as the dedicated acolyte of Slowik’s cult-like staff.

One other thing I found interesting about this film is that I think it is the first time I’ve seen any form of media where the pandemic was an actual trigger for some of the events in the film. Most forms of media seem to dance around it, but this sits amongst it and screams ‘ this is partially to blame’.

Time for heaps of food-based puns. This film was a feast on the eyes, and I gorged myself on the performances of the entire cast. It’s a shame more films aren’t like this as I believe we should all dine out on this sort of thing.

Seriously though, The Menu is a fantastic film and well worthy of your time.

The menu for the Australian Bluray release

Disc: There are two listed extras, but the first, Open Kitchen, A Look Inside The Menu, is divided into 3 ‘courses’ to keep in theme of the movie.

First Course looks at the design of the ACTUAL food for The Menu, which was designed by chef Dominique Crenn, who also, with discussions with Fiennes, co-created his character and his impulses and motivations. Kendall Gensler, a food stylist, was also present to add to the character of Slowik through the way the food looked on the plate.

Second Course looks at the design of the restaurant, including it’s uniforms, and the way the island reflects his entire vision of the restaurant. It also explores the characters and their motivations with commentary by the actors involved. It also takes a peek behind the curtain of the director’s methods so that any improvised nuances by the actors where captured. It’s an interesting, albeit short, look at the making of the entire production.

Dessert looks at the finale… DO NOT watch this before watching the film! It looks at the production design of the finale.

Deleted scenes contains 3 scenes from throughout the film. Normally I would say that a fiom is better off without the deleted scenes but these I wish were still in the film. Realistically it would have pushed the film over the 1 hour 50 minute point, but it’s only 5 minutes of extra footage, and I found them quite revealing.

This film was reviewed with the Australian release Bluray, purchased from JB Hifi.

Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is taught a lesson by Chef Slowik