M3GAN is not your standard modern horror movie. In fact, in some ways it’s closer to the original Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN in that a scientist creates a form of life never before seen and then attempts to destroy it when it becomes uncontrollable. Dressed up in modern-day trappings, that’s exactly the plot of M3GAN. Similarly, there’s an unspoken warning about playing with forces humans perhaps shouldn’t be playing with.
Playing, in fact, is the essential concept behind M3GAN. The title character is a life-sized, lifelike little girl doll powered by artificial intelligence. She’s created by toy company scientist, Gemma. When Gemma’s niece, Cady, comes to live with her after her parents were killed in a traumatic car accident where she was the only survivor, M3GAN is used to pacify Cady. The two are bonded together by the doll’s programming, with Cady now being her “person.” With a capacity to learn and add to her own programming as she goes along, M3GAN acts as a friend, a counselor, a teacher, and a protector to Cady. At first Gemma is thrilled, and her company begins to prepare to market the $10,000 toys to an eager world. But then things start happening.
An obnoxious boy at a school camp steals M3GAN and is found killed by a car after falling down a hill. An accident, plain and simple…but when another body turns up, Gemma slowly becomes suspicious. When M3GAN begins to show more and more autonomy and Cady more and more dependence on her, Gemma slowly becomes concerned, then scared.
The movie works as a straight suspense narrative, with top-notch performances all around, particularly from Allison Williams (daughter of TV anchorman Brian Williams) as Gemma and young Violet McGraw as Cady. There’s a surprising emotional layer to the film, also, though, that might even bring some viewers to tears. Step back a bit further and you see it’s actually a dark comedy, both parodying the current and future state of the art as far as AIs go, and at the same time celebrating same…and warning of its possible dangers.
The real star of the picture, of course, is M3GAN “herself,” fresh from the uncanny valley. Credited on IMDB to Amie Donald in the mask and Jenna Davis’s voice, the effect is stunning and, presumably because of the leaps and bounds of progress we’ve seen in Artificial Intelligence, we not only accept her, we LIKE her.
Unlike, say, Chucky, M3GAN is not a monster, even if she seems like one by the end of the picture. She’s a likable personality who finds herself in a situation where in order to follow her basic programming to protect Cady, she has to ignore Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
I’ve read where there’s an unrated, gorier version, but it’s not needed. Director Gerard Johnstone paces everything perfectly in the basic version, allowing the violence when it comes to be more of a shock. In fact, M3GAN overall is a bit of a shock. Unlike movies like HELLRAISER, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, etc, this little bit of science fiction really does seem just around the corner.