Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Anthony Willis

QuickView: M3gan (2022)

“Don’t worry, Cady. I won’t let anything harm you. Ever again.”


The inherent creepiness of a doll’s wide-eyed, expressionless gaze has inspired a litany of horror films and in any other year M3gan might have been another generic modern update to 1988’s Child’s Play, but fortuitous timing meant it released just as ChatGPT 3 captured public attention and imagination. The titular M3gan is a prototype “Model 3 Generative Android”, directly referencing the same generative algorithms that have fuelled the recent wave of A.I. products. When the designer’s niece comes to stay after a tragic accident, she and M3gan swiftly become attached, providing the film’s strongest themes regarding parental anxiety over the influence of technology in raising children. There is also interesting commentary about grief and distraction, though M3gan fumbles its subplot with a therapist who is presented as an antagonist. Whilst M3gan’s level of interactivity may be wholly unrealistic (for now), Akela Cooper’s script capitalises on the genuine concern that there is no way to understand the reason for actions created by a generative algorithm. Audiences will know exactly what to expect from M3gan’s light horror aspects. Whilst the uncanny valley is typically a concern with artificial characters, here it is an advantage — M3gan’s mere presence can be unsettling, and her unnatural movements on the attack provide body horror. Portal’s GLaDOS has evidently supplanted HAL-9000 as the touchstone for murderous A.I. voices, and her influence is evident in M3gan’s vocal distortion later in the film. M3gan is likely a product of its time rather than a horror film that will age gracefully, but for right now it is an entertaining riff on modern tech paranoia.


QuickView: Saltburn (2023)

“Lots of people get lost in Saltburn.”


In her sophomore picture, Emerald Fennell returns to the theme of privilege from Promising Young Woman, this time focusing on wealth, beauty and status. All of these things separate Oliver from his peers at Oxford until he befriends the popular Felix. Divided into three distinct acts, the first is Oliver’s struggle to fit in at university, the second is his invitation to stay at the intimidating estate at Saltburn, and the third is invariably where things begin to unravel, both for the characters and, unfortunately, the film. Barry Keoghan, who impressed in The Banshees of Inisherin, is intense and expressive as Oliver, with a strange voyeurism and impulsiveness reminiscent of The Talented Mr Ripley. It is easy to understand why he wishes to ingratiate himself with the Catton family, the supporting cast creating an atmosphere at once welcoming yet fickle. Following his work on Babylon, cinematographer Linus Sandgren captures the hedonistic parties exquisitely, switching between visual cacophony and calm. Fennell has suggested that the unusual 1.33:1 aspect ratio gives the impression of “peeping in”, though I found it most effective in allowing the historic architecture to loom over the characters, particularly when Oliver first arrives at Saltburn. The sharper satire of the wealthy is laugh-out-loud funny (particularly with the delivery of Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike) and could have supported a whole film, but Fennell has grander motivations, revelling in her imagery like a maze with a minotaur statue at its centre and Felix Icarus-like in costume wings. Subtlety is not Fennell’s style. There is rich and intoxicating cinema to experience here, and it is a shame she is not quite able to stick the landing — the last half hour feels like it might work in a novel but it is unsatisfying on screen, diluting the overall experience.


QuickView: Promising Young Woman (2020)

“Look how easy that was. I guess you just had to think about it in the right way.”


A bold and unpredictable female revenge thriller, stripped of the male gaze that typifies the genre, Promising Young Woman is an arresting directorial debut from Emerald Fennell. Carey Mulligan’s performance is enthralling, turning on a dime between vulnerable and predatory, but revealing greater emotional depth through her relationships with her parents, her boss and a potential new love interest. The juxtaposition of these softer scenes provides tonal shifts that are uncomfortable without feeling exploitative, since they are about the character’s different headspaces rather than simply a visual cut between sex and violence (indeed, for all the darkness of its subject matter, there is little of either on screen). Cassandra’s strength is her dauntlessness rather than aggression, leading to some wonderfully feminist wish-fulfilment sequences like silently staring down a group of catcalling builders until their bravado falters. The tonal disconnect is heightened through a soundtrack of female-fronted pop, culminating in an instrumental strings cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic that drips with menace. It is the combination of these aspects that makes Promising Young Woman feel so fresh in cinema, a continuation of television experiments like Killing Eve (on which Fennell was a writer). Using this remarkable concoction to make sharp points about rape culture, the prioritisation of men’s reputations, guilt, complicity and historic transgressions, makes this an important — as well as impressive — achievement.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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