January is often seen as a cinematic dumping ground. Studios with little faith in their final product opt to release their movies after the award season has wrapped. The Blumhouse horror flick M3GAN was released earlier this January. But I’m not sure why. Not only did it make a killing at the box office, enough to get a sequel greenlit titled M3GAN 2.0, but the killer-doll movie was actually pretty good on top of it.
M3GAN is about a family dealing with a personal crisis. After tragedy strikes, the now-orphaned Cady finds herself under the guardianship of her successful aunt Gemma, who is a robotics toy designer. Her toys are like Furbabies but with an app and more advanced code. But in secret and without permission, she and her team have been building M3GAN (model 3 generative android), a robotic doll capable of conversing and learning. Think ChatGPT meets Barbie. M3GAN is the perfect companion for the grieving Cady and Gemma, who is just too busy to give the child the time of day despite the crisis. She doesn’t know how to be a parent, but she also doesn’t really put in the time to try, especially with this new AI companion being able to do the heavy lifting for her. M3GAN herself is eerie, in that she’s almost human but still retains some robotic elements, creating this sub-human appearance that invokes the uncanny valley. Her voice also echoes this sentiment, having traces of modular distortion on an otherwise very human pitch.
M3GAN works thanks in part to being very self-aware. Apart from being a slasher horror-styled movie, it’s also a satire on our dependency on technology and the fears of when AI starts to think for itself. 2023 has been the year of AI so far and a lot of what’s made headlines this year has been featured in the movie. There are smaller but clever moments, such as having emotional moments being interrupted by the need to update an app, but also more frightening moments like a child’s blind dependency on tech like M3GAN, who could easily substitute for youth addiction to social media. Cady becomes frighteningly dependent on M3GAN, becoming quite violent even when denied access to her doll. Despite being programmed as a caregiver and friend, the AI powering the M3GAN doll naturally evolves and becomes hostile in an effort to protect her primary user. But even that has its limits as the AI begins to question why and seeks autonomy in a heinously violent fashion.
Despite being a slasher-style movie, M3GAN isn’t really a horror movie. Sure, it has kills and such, but I would say that comes secondary to the primary story. It’s nice to have a movie like this focus more on character, story and satire than the blood, guts and scares. Despite being a movie about AI and technology, this is a surprisingly human story and the movie benefits from it. Which is interesting as both Gemma and Cady aren’t great characters to root for. Gemma is a workaholic to the point of being blinded by the crisis brewing in front of her, while Cady ends up being addicted to the tech of M3GAN and becomes an unpleasant character in the mid-way part of the movie. But considering the story the film is telling, it works thanks to the satirical style.
Thanks to the power of home video, I was able to see M3GAN as it was originally intended: R-rated. Released theatrically as a PG-13 movie to boost profits, the home release restores the blood and profanity. While the gore is shown quickly, the footage still is fairly gnarly. But the theatrical release is still an option if you’re squeamish about blood.
In the end, M3GAN was a surprisingly engaging movie, one that holds the mirror up far more than I was expecting it to. Scares come secondary in this movie, but if you want your social commentary to be a little blood-soaked, then this is a solid offering.