In 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Aldous Snow (played memorably by Russell Brand) lamented his titular actress girlfriend (Kristen Bell) taking a role in a film where the villain was a cellular phone. “Why would a mobile kill anyone?” Aldous asked. “It doesn’t make sense. How can a mobile phone have an agenda?”
The joke, of course, was that Bell had made a movie with a similar premise (2006’s Pulse), and it landed big in the film and in the wake of a slew of American remakes of Japanese horror films, like Pulse, in which technology turns against us.
Margaux ups that ante. Here, an entire house is looking to kill people. A “smart house,” powered by a device similar to one most of us have in our own homes these days that inexplicably decides anyone who gets inside it must die.
There is a certain prescience to the premise of the film (which hits VOD streaming Friday) and a potentially strong statement to make about our overreliance on technology and how that can potentially backfire with disastrous consequences. The pieces are there for a fun, laughable bloodbath, but what we get is a flimsy, feckless thriller that just sort of makes up the rules as it goes along.
The film opens with a Scream-type opening stinger featuring Lochlyn Munro (whom you might know from TV’s Riverdale and movies like Scary Movie and White Chicks). The sequence is ludicrous but undeniably fun and a worthwhile setup for a film that has some ideas but doesn’t really go anywhere.
Jumping ahead sometime later, a group of college kids rents the aforementioned house for a weekend party. They’re archetypes straight out of central slasher casting: the amorous couple who can’t keep their hands off each other (Phoebe Miu and Jordan Buhat); the stoner (Richard Harmon); the good-looking single dude (Jedidiah Goodacre); the snotty mean-girl influencer (Vanessa Morgan); and the brainy girl (Madison Pettis).
They’re all potential victims for Margaux, whose powers ridiculously extend beyond turning lights on and off or playing 20 Questions. The AI-powered home assistant creates death traps that ensnare its victims, and it plans to use them.
The script never really addresses what Margaux wants or what its goals are. Margaux connects with guests the way a creepy uncle wants to look cool in front of his teenage niece’s friends, forcing lingo into its vocabulary based on what it accesses from the Internet. But this is only in service of luring them in to kill them.
The “rules” by which Margaux plays are never really explained ahead of time, so kill scenes feel forced and out of place; why would anyone design a home with a room with walls that close in like a Death Star trash compactor or emit a white goo with … the power to “reprogram” dead bodies?
Margaux also toys with victims, playing on their insecurities and using dead friends against them, like an AI Freddy Krueger who preys during waking hours.
Add to it that the deaths are generally not entertaining or clever, and neither are the CG effects by which they’re realized, particularly long, Doc Ock-like “arms” that sprout from the kitchen counter to help pour shots that conveniently can restrain a guest. (Again, why would anyone design a house like this?)
But those questions are over-thinking in a film like Margaux. It clearly has a low ceiling, but it consistently fails to reach those navel-tickling heights as it half-heartedly attempts to entertain us. And that last part, by the way, is maybe the nicest thing to be said of this movie: It does at least try, little as that may be.