Growing up a curious and movie-loving little gay boy, I distinctly remember my first reaction when I saw the iconic Disney Channel Original movie, Smart House. In 1999, this type of technology seemed just so far-fetched and ridiculous that it was laughable, and made for a suitably fun, preposterous hour and a half of easy watching. Margaux comes to us in a very different time with a completely different spin on smart home material, yet it embraces that same sense of whimsy and ridiculousness. In 2022, smart home tech doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched, so how could the filmmakers tap into audience fears about technology whilst capturing the awe of its grandiosity? Taking a horror approach, Margaux injects dark comedy into a premise teeming with possibilities. 3D printing takes on a whole new meaning as a dumb group of college kids face off against a whip-smart serial killer house…
What would a great horror movie be without a signature, beautifully gory set piece to set the stage? Margaux follows suit by dispatching its opening victim in an explosion of grape-popping body parts, and a bright burst of blood! Director Steven C. Miller (2012’s Silent Night) certainly establishes the tone and atmosphere early on thanks to this gleefully nasty start. From here, we meet our cast of characters (and obvious victims)—there is smart app-obsessed Hannah (Madison Pettis, He’s All That, The Game Plan); hunky trophy-winning athlete Drew (Jedidiah Goodacre, Disney’s Descendants, If There Be Thorns); sexually explorative long-term couple Devin (Jordan Buhat, Summer of 84, Grown-ish) and Kayla (Phoebe Miu, Die in a Gunfight, Riverdale); and super-stoner Clay (Richard Harmon, The 100, Grave Enounters 2). The one thing this crew has in common is that they were all freshman year scholarship recipients, and formed a group aptly named the Nerd Herd. It has been a long four years where they have drifted apart, but what better exercise to rejuvenate their friendship than a weekend of partying at a lush, stylish mansion overlooking the mountains?
At the last second, Drew’s self-obsessed influencer ex-girlfriend, Lexi (Vanessa Morgan, Riverdale, Finding Carter), tags along, forcibly inviting herself amongst this tight-knit Nerd Herd. Immediately, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Lexi pokes at Hannah for not having a social media presence, sure to boast about her own million followers and counting. When they pull up to the “smart house” where they will spend the next several days, the front gate won’t even open until a phone app is utilized. Everyone rushes to download the app that is supposed to control the majority of the home’s functionality. The only one who doesn’t immediately install it is, of course, Hannah. Margaux, the artificial intelligence that manages the house’s infrastructure, gives them all a warm welcome. Margaux throws in slang like “no cap” and “yas queen,” which presents an immediate cringe-comedy reaction. The cutest thing about their veritable entry parade is that Margaux has made adorable little avatars of them—except for Hannah, who gets an abrupt flash-photograph to stand in.
Margaux goes in hard to try to win over each veritable new guest. She immediately pours them shots through the use of robot arms, to “help keep your weekend lit!” For Lexi, Margaux plasters her social media presence all over the windows of her room, complete with a timed selfie station in the bathroom mirror. Clay has access to endless music and endless munchies, courtesy of Margaux’s 6000-recipe repertoire from Michelin-rated chefs. Even Drew has a whole fitness workout setup, and oodles of his trophies on display that Margaux claims have been 3D-printed. Naturally, Hannah’s room is barren and normal. Through the use of the app they each installed, Margaux has a direct lifeline into their photos, and thereby their very personalities—there’s only Hannah that she cannot seem to crack. A montage of partying, from campfire stories to swimming in the pool to downing drinks, lets us get to know these characters up close and personal before Margaux really lets loose on them.
I will say that I think from beginning to end, writers Chris Beyrooty, Chris Sivertson, and Nick Waters are in on the joke. Margaux wisely chooses not to take itself seriously. A gag involving hair extensions had me howling in laughter. The house spouts out dialogue like “guaranteed to get you high as fuck” in Siri-esque tones, and channels its power through mysterious white liquid that seems to 3D-print people. Kills are singular and purposeful, with not a single one of them exactly the same as what has come before. Steven C. Miller does an excellent job building tension and suspense, weaving in the script’s dark humor in a fashion organic to everything the movie is trying to say. Margaux often takes big swings—while this doesn’t always work, it still makes for a very entertaining watch that is less predictable than one would anticipate. A propulsive finale manages to give major Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors vibes that horror fans will love! It may not be Smart House, but Margaux aptly makes a strong case in being another bold entry into the smart tech cinematic universe.
Margaux recalibrates the ideal living experience when it comes to video on demand from Paramount Pictures on Friday, September 9th.