Science fiction horror movies used to be scary because they described a distant future where science has gone too far; nowadays, however, they are scary because science has advanced so much that these terrifying scenarios might be just a couple of experiments away from becoming reality.
M3GAN, written by Akela Cooper and James Wan, stars Allison Williams (you may remember her as Rose in Jordan Peele’s Get Out) as an engineer named Gemma. Gemma works in the robotics division of a prominent toy company called Funki. Although her boss (played by Ronny Chieng) tasks her with redesigning one of their products, a high-tech, Furby-like toy called a Perpetual Pet, Gemma is secretly working on a project of her own: an AI robot she calls the Model 3 Generative Android, or M3GAN. When Gemma suddenly gains custody of her 9-year-old niece Cady (played by Violet McGraw) after the tragic death of her sister and brother-in-law, she realizes that her secret project might be exactly what Cady needs to cope with the loss of her parents. But this $10,000 toy is a little too good at her job.
This movie gets an A+ for the creepiness factor. It really draws on the uncanny valley phenomenon: at first glance, M3GAN looks almost human—in fact, multiple characters mistake her for a real girl throughout the film—but there’s something about her that’s just barely off enough to be unsettling. Knowing that this manmade yet sentient thing is always nearby, watching, listening, learning, adapting… Creepy with a capital C. The jump scares were predictable but effective: pretty much every time you think, “M3GAN is right there, isn’t she?”, she does indeed appear, which is disturbing even if you prepare yourself for it.
Unfortunately, that’s really all I can say positively about the horror aspect of this movie. The kills are all done off-screen, and with the film’s PG-13 rating, the blood and gore are kept to the bare minimum. M3GAN’s singing was probably meant to be scary, or at least unnerving, but I just thought it was funny. The real “horrors” are more on a psychological level, as it makes you think about just how much autonomy artificial intelligence can develop, and what happens if and when the creator loses control over their creation. But this philosophy is certainly not a new or original concept in horror; I mean, we can trace this all the way back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I will say, however, that this film is very timely, what with the morality of AI art being such a hot-button topic on the internet right now. The social commentary on today’s children being too addicted to technology is also relevant.
While the acting was good and the story was interesting, the film was riddled with demerits. For example, my favorite part of the trailer—the part that made me most excited for the film—was disappointingly brief, and while it was (in my opinion) the highlight of the trailer, it was merely a quick, random, easily dismissible moment in the movie itself. One moment in particular (which also appeared in the trailer) was completely illogical and clearly meant to be just plain disturbing, but was too nonsensical for me to take seriously; if the goal of that scene was to make the audience say “WTF?” and giggle uncomfortably, then they succeeded, at least. Furthermore, the actual building of M3GAN felt rushed, especially compared to the introduction to the original incomplete model.
Overall, M3GAN was entertaining, but nothing about it stood out as remarkable. The best thing I can say is that I think it would make a great first horror movie for pre-teens who are curious about the genre (my first horror movie was Orphan, in case you were wondering).