This has been an unusually strong January at my local movie theater, as “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and “M3GAN” are all playing at the same time — not what usually comes to mind when you think of what’s usually a barren time of year for cinema.
“M3GAN” stars an AI-controlled robotic doll of the same name. Like Star War’s Darth Vader, her performance cannot be attributed to one actress; she is physically portrayed by Amie Donald, while Jenna Davis is her voice. The film, starts out with tragedy, as the parents of Cady (Violet McGraw), our protagonist, are killed early on in a car accident, which leaves her in the care of Gemma (Allison Williams), our other protagonist, who works for a toy company that’s known for Furby-like toys that kids can play with through a phone app.
Those toys are not enough for Gemma, though, who has been developing M3GAN’s robot body and artificial intelligence for years behind her bosses back, who are against the idea of her. However, when she brings him back a running prototype of M3GAN, all he sees are dollar signs, promptly rushing M3GAN into production despite the fact that she clearly needs more tests done and proper parental controls installed. M3GAN is set to launch at a price of about $10,000, and strives to be a sort-of digital friend to kids.
This sets up the central conflict of the film, as Gemma leans too much on M3GAN to raise Cady. As a result, M3GAN forms a deep attachment to Cady and takes her directive to protect her from harm too literally, which leads to the film’s horror scenarios.
M3GAN is terrifying as a horror villain not because she has superhuman strength (which she does), but because, unlike other killer dolls, she is powered by AI that’s much faster than the human brain, which is on display through her kills. The movie makes an effort to make her kills clever, as if they were the product of a computer quickly crunching numbers to calculate the most effective way to take her human victims off guard and finish the job.
M3GAN as a character also makes this film. She rightfully belongs in Blumhouse’s rogues’ gallery of horror icons.
The film does fall apart a little bit if you think too closely on its premise — M3GAN is intelligent enough to understand the complex emotions a person in crisis has and respond appropriately, for example, but she is also not clever enough to understand that Gemma did not intend for her to take her protection directive too literally.
However, its science fiction premise is strong and refreshes the killer doll horror genre, even if its horror elements are standard. This film leaves plenty of room for a much better sequel to build off this premise, while working on its horror fundamentals.
M3GAN gets an 8/10