The most frightening thing about Artificial Intelligence (AI) is that it doesn’t necessarily have to turn “evil” in order to cause harm to humans. It merely needs to think that causing harm to humans is a necessary byproduct to achieving its goal. In essence, it will do exactly as we humans program it to do, and in doing so, will cause harm without remorse in the process.
In James Wan and Blumhouse’s latest production M3GAN, we see this idea played out via an anthropomorphic, child-sized doll that yearns to be best friends with the child it’s imprinted to. The movie explores these larger philosophical ideas, although it never goes too far into esoteric territory, and it remains a boatload of fun along the way!
Best Friends Forever
Following the tragic death of her parents in a terrible car accident, young Cady (Violet McGraw) is sent to live with her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams). Gemma works for a massive toy company, using her skills in robotics to create the smartest, most advanced toys on the market. Her specialty is using AI to create toys that respond directly to children.
Given her devotion to career, Cady moving in with her is a shocking adjustment, with neither of them really warming up to the other. However, Gemma wins her niece over by introducing her to her latest invention: M3GAN, an incredibly intelligent toy that imprints to a child and acts as their best friend. Suddenly Cady is in much positive spirits as she and M3GAN are inseparable.
Gemma presents M3GAN to her company and they’re impressed with how advanced she is, and sees her as the greatest invention since the automobile. But the more and more Cady bonds and becomes attached to M3GAN, she becomes more and more detached from other people, especially kids her own age.
And while M3GAN makes Cady feel better in the immediate sense, she doesn’t help the young grieving girl ever process the grief of her parents’ death, something necessary for growth.
Any Means Necessary
M3GAN’s programming allows her to learn, grow, and even re-write her own programming, all in the service of being Cady’s best friend. Gemma had designed her with safeguards to prevent her from hurting people, but her devotion to protecting Cady comes to override that, and M3GAN shows us just how deadly she can be.
There’s a really interesting back and forth between Gemma and M3GAN for “control” over Cady. The more advanced M3GAN becomes, the less she feels that Gemma is even needed. As far as AI gone wrong stories go, this movie will certainly invite comparisons to things like 2019’s Child’s Play and Black Mirror. And while M3GAN has a lot in common with them in terms of premise, its execution and style are incredibly different (and not in a bad way).
Horror is no stranger to the occasional comedic moment to break the tension, but M3GAN almost feels like it’s just as much a dark comedy as it is a horror film, and both of these tones work perfectly in harmony together. The movie takes its premise seriously, but never takes itself too seriously. It has its campy moments, and knows exactly how to play them. The result is an audience who goes from laughing to cringing back and forth, but the elicited response was always what the movie intended. If you’re laughing, it’s not because the movie is terrible, it’s because it was a genuinely fun moment.
New Horror Icon
Without a doubt, the best thing about this movie is M3GAN herself. Thus far, she only has this one movie, but she very much holds her own in both the Creepy Doll Hall of Fame and AI Gone Wrong Hall of Fame simultaneously. For most scenes, she’s being played by child actor Amie Donald (and voiced by a teenage actor, Jenna Davis). Both her physical and voice performance work perfectly together to give this horror villain a ton of personality and sass.
M3GAN’s entire design leans very heavily into uncanny valley, but this is one the few times that it works to a film’s advantage. She’s supposed to be creepy and unsettling, and the film pulls that off very well. Some horror fans will lament its PG-13 rating, but honestly, it has a variety of fun and creative kills, it just never gets too bloody with any of them. Its rating never holds it back, and kind of makes it more accessible to younger teens, who may even be closer to Cady in age.
Overall, M3GAN is both a campy but fun dumb movie, and a smart philosophical movie, and always strikes that balance between tones flawlessly. It’s equal parts creepy and hilarious, and does a great job kicking off as our first theatrical horror film of 2023!
What did you think of M3GAN? What are some of your favorite killer doll and killer AI movies? Let us know in the comments!