Written by: Matt Patti | January 5th, 2023
M3GAN (Gerard Johnstone, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is a fascinating phenomenon that many people around the world are eager to explore. Humans have long been obsessed with the idea, specifically filmmakers, as movies dating all the way back to the 1920s have toyed with the concept of robots. Now, it seems as if we’re living in the world that so many films explored, with robots and A.I. being created in real-life and more easily consumable by the everyday user than ever before, with many phone apps using A.I. to create cartoon-like images of real people. While astonishing and awe-inspiring, A.I.—and robots specifically—inspire some fear in the back of many people’s minds, primarily thanks to the many sci-fi, and even some horror, films that seemed to warn us about the potential dangers of such advanced artificial intelligence. Yet another film that explores the possible horrors of a very advanced A.I. gone wrong, this time with a very modern and eerily realistic tone, is director Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN.
Blumhouse and horror legend James Wan (Malignant, here in a producing/writing role) teams up with Johnstone (Housebound) to bring us a film that features an uber-realistic, life-like robot of the same name, controlled by A.I. In the movie, a supremely intelligent roboticist, Gemma (Allison Williams, Get Out) becomes the sole guardian of her niece, 8-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw, A Christmas Mystery). Gemma, who works for a toy company, is very unprepared for this sudden change in her life, as most of her focus is on her work. So she comes up with an idea of how to handle this sudden undertaking: pairing her prototype android, M3GAN, with Cady, so that Cady can have someone to spend time with and so that M3GAN can also take care of Cady, taking pressure off of Gemma. What’s more, Cady also functions as a test user for M3GAN, which is still in its early stages. What seems like a genius plan soon turns into a horrific choice, as the A.I.-controlled M3GAN begins to take on a life of her own and becomes far too invasive in Cady’s everyday life.
M3GAN has an intriguing tone throughout, carefully mixing together comedy and fright. The film features plenty of suspenseful scenes and thrilling clashes, but the humor impresses, as well, with perfectly timed comedic moments. The android inspires a sense of fear, awkwardness, and hilarity all at the same time, making the viewer not quite sure whether to be afraid of the robot or to laugh at its sassy remarks and creepy, oddball behavior. This mix works for the most part, as the audience wonders if M3GAN can be trusted. The design of M3GAN is something to behold, as it is an extremely advanced A.I. that has capabilities such as reading people’s prominent emotional states, storing memories, and protecting its primary user—this being Cady—along with high intelligence. While this film does seem to take some clichés from other killer android films, and surely is inspired by a particularly infamous and dangerous doll named Chucky, the unique design and marketing of the M3GAN android makes the film feel unique.
The movie does have quite a few flaws to point out, however, even though I find it enjoyable in the end. Firstly, the performances of the supporting cast do not impress. Allison Williams provides a decent performance as Gemma, but the rest of the cast seems very much on a lower level. The majority of the supporting cast is passable, but there are two performances in particular that are especially poor and a bit distracting. My other large issue with the film is that the characters seem to react to tragedy in a very strange way. The film opens with a very sad event, but the ripple effects of that event are never truly felt, as those affected don’t seem to be emotionally touched by the event, save for one somewhat forced moment. This early moment is not the only case in this film, though. As more terrifying things happen, many of the characters seem to not care at all and just get on with their lives. Some time to pause and reflect on the effects of some of this devastation I think is very necessary, and unfortunately M3GAN lacks in that department.
Overall, M3GAN does succeed, though, as a fun horror-thriller with just the right dose of humor. The film, just like so many others, explores the horrifying idea of humans’ creations turning against them, and something that is supposed to be helpful and comforting turning into something terrifying. It also touches on how greedy corporations can try to push out a product before it is ready and the consequences that come with that. So, although the film feels very familiar, it has just enough to set it apart from other movies similar to it. M3GAN is a rare January horror film that exceeds expectations.