Quick Reviews: 'M3GAN', 'JUNG_E' | Killer Doll Is Overprotective, Killer Robot Is Relentless
You'd think that we all would've learned by now to not trust creepy dolls, toys or robots but here we go again, I reckon. Director Gerard Johnstone goes on a killing spree with M3GAN, a sci-fi horror comedy written by Akela Cooper. Their film finds a young girl named Cady (Violet McGraw) losing her parents in a car accident and adopted by her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a robotics specialist developing products for the toy company Funki. After a rough start with Cady since Gemma doesn't have many motherly instincts, she finishes the development on M3GAN (Amie Donald providing the movement, Jenna Davis the voice) as Cady seems to bond with the robot. Slowly but surely, M3GAN becomes overly protective of her and there are no limits to that protection.
Your worries about if the film understands its own eccentric appeal are very much valid in the first 30 minutes or so as the characters are quite unoriginal when you first meet them. Not helping that feeling is that it's also extremely easy to see the seams where it has been manufactured for PG-13 rating, often cutting away from kills and then transitioning awkwardly. Once Johnstone and company get over the hump of explaining backstories and decide to have fun, M3GAN finds its comedy-driven tone which provides satisfying results.
Williams, McGraw and many supporting players clearly get what is asked of them, visual effects look great and are in fact seamless when combined with animatronics and other practical elements, and Cooper's script uses enough deadpan material to counterbalance quirkier stuff, like the viral dance breaks. It's actually a surprise how well this works considering that it was clearly designed to be much nastier than what we're seeing now. Still, heaven isn't for toys like M3GAN.
Smileys: Tone, VFX
Speaking of killer technology, let's check out what is going on in South Korea. This weapon of destruction is unleashed approximately 100 years later in writer-director Yeon Sang-ho's sci-fi drama JUNG_E (same title used in South Korea) as humans have relocated from Earth to a new planet due to rapid climate change. Civil war has been raging on this new planet between different ''shelters'' which consist of a certain number of humans. Artificial intelligence expert Seo-hyun (Kang Soo-youn in her last film role, Park So-yi as a child) leads a research team for company called Kronoid in one of these shelters, developing the project JUNG_E where her late mother and deadly mercenary Jung-yi's (Kim Hyun-joo) brain and likeness is used to create a warrior robot. This is believed to be a solution to end the war.
Maybe there's a pattern emerging here but JUNG_E also struggles massively with its first act where scenes just don't flow together as they should, neither stakes nor character motivations are quite clear and there's a distractingly broad, off-kilter performance by Ryu Kyung-soo that just keeps sucking air out of Kang's more low-key outing, which is very emotionally compelling for one's last screen performance. Futuristic world presented by Yeon is wonderfully realised with some nice small-scale action, active camera work by DoP Yoo Ji-sun and most importantly with detailed, deep-in-the-frame visual effects.
Yeon and the rest of his creative team almost manage to save their story from the sluggish first act when they decide to focus on human drama—driven by Kang's range as an actor—in the middle of everything but again lose some of the focus once they explore this world's bureaucracy later. There's just something missing from Yeon's writing that makes it seem more like a draft than fully realised drama that would be a match with this kind of world-building.
Smileys: VFX, Kang Soo-youn
Frowneys: Pacing, screenplay, Ryu Kyung-soo