Megan is a Welcome January Surprise

Megan is a 2023 horror comedy directed by Gerard Johnstone and starring Allison Williams and Violet McGraw.  It tells the story of how a little girl named Cady loses her parents in a car accident and has to live with her aunt Gemma, a detached but well meaning toy designer who is not only having to struggle with getting a new advanced toy on the market by a crushing deadline, but also the simultaneous grief of her sister’s death and the sudden burden of taking care of a child.

Gemma decides that this is the perfect opportunity to introduce her niece to Megan, a prototype android doll that watches and learns as it interacts with its user and, although Caty and Megan become the best of friends, disastrous and horrifying consequences result as they often do in horror movies.

January has long had a reputation as a dumping ground for movies where studios silently release films that they have little or no confidence in but, oddly, the last few years, we’ve seen a shift as studios are recognizing that January could be undeveloped real estate, fields that are difficult to farm, but could yield a crop nonetheless.  So, in a month that was once guaranteed to have nothing but the worst releases of the year, January is sometimes producing the odd diamond in the rough and one of those diamonds is Megan.

Although marketed as a horror film, Megan is a straight up horror comedy and that genre honestly works best for it.  The movie has a ridiculous premise that it fully embraces and never apologizes for… nor should it.  This is why a movie like Megan works while a movie like, say, the Child’s Play remake fails.  No one is actually scared of a talking doll, but when you acknowledge that the movie is somewhat of a farce it’s easier to go with.  That’s why the later theatrical Chucky movies like Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky work better than the first ones and that is a hill I am willing to happily die on.  Go ahead and crucify me in the comments. 

Likewise, you’re more likely to laugh in a showing of Megan than you are to scream.  Sure, there are the occasional jump scares, but aside from them and one other thing, you’re not going to be frightened.

What is that other thing?  It’s Megan’s design.  There is the thing called The Uncanny Valley.  You probably know what it is, but just in case you don’t, it’s a phenomenon in which the more that something artificial looks human, the more unsettling it is.  This is why early attempts at photorealistic CGI were so off-putting.  Our brain sees something like Final Fantasy the Spirits Within or The Rock in The Scorpion King and it is unsettling.  We just can’t accept it.

Megan is not a CGI creation, she’s essentially a puppet who is obviously meant to look like a little girl, and yet, the stiffness in her face and her straight posture when she walks, has a tendency to automatically put us on guard.  Megan is disarming enough to not see as a threat, but uncanny enough to make us uncomfortable which I find incredibly effective for her character.

Beyond that, Megan’s face, as I said, is stiff and, for the most part, isn’t capable of expressing too many emotions.  I am in awe of how much this character was able to communicate with just a movement of the eye or a subtle change in her brows or mouth.  This is amazing puppetry work and I fear that not enough people are going to recognize it.  We’re in an age when Megans face could have easily been made incredibly expressive, but the filmmakers chose to do more with less and not only does this bring an extra air of uncomfortable uncertainty as to what Megan is thinking or what she’s about to do, it also sells the concept that she is meant to be a toy because she looks like a toy, was almost meant to be a toy, and is – as a result – limited by being a toy.

Beyond the movie acknowledging its own ridiculous premise and the brilliant work that went into Megan herself, another thing that makes this movie work are the characters.  You become invested in the struggle of Caty and Gemma, though their highs and lows, progress and setbacks.  This is a pair of characters that you find yourself caring about.  It reminded me a lot of how the family in the original Poltergeist were handled.  Lots of character development, you knew who they are, what they wanted, and what was standing in their way and, while Megan didn’t have to juggle a cast that massive, it does well by the primary characters it does have and, in the end, characters are what keeps a movie like this with you.  Gemma, Caty, and, yes, even Megan, because despite the terrible things that the technological tyke does, you do understand why.  Her motivations are never out of the blue, you witness the evolution of Polly Pocket into Chucky and it makes sense.  The movie loses some of that reasoning in the last act as Megan goes full murder bot for the sake of an exciting climax, which is unfortunate, but understandable.

Something else about the movie that I enjoyed is that it did not revel in sadism.  Yes, there are murders and deaths – obviously – but those murders and deaths are not drawn out and the victims aren’t tortured needlessly.  As a matter of fact, they are handled just the way that the movie should handle them – ridiculously.  Every character who meets their end in Megan deserves their fate, as if Megan is an avenging moralistic angel.  The ones who don’t deserve it, survive even though they survive with bruises and emotional trauma.  Megan as a film never comes off as cruel, it never comes off as sadistic, it comes off as a well balanced horror/comedy birthed from wise and creative decisions.   This is an almost milder version of Gremlins and, given that sequel tease and a couple of plot developments that happened during this film, I almost get the impression that is the direction that the follow-up will go and, let me tell you, I’m all here for it.

I thought Megan was a pleasant surprise.  A wholly competent horror comedy that made me laugh, kept me interested, and most shockingly, has stayed with me when other movies of this type I usually forget about immediately.  It brings me hope that perhaps January isn’t the teetering trashpile that we’re used to it being and that, in the future, we can see more movies like Megan emerge from the ground like daisies in a field fertilized by past failures.

I fully recommend Megan.  It’s the best movie of 2023.

It’s also the only movie I’ve seen in 2023, but a victory is a victory.

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