M3GAN: Plenty of Heart, Not Enough Blood

The hype around M3GAN is truly enough to warrant a viewing; such word-of-mouth harks back to a bygone era of water coolers, when small budget films found success through the grapevine. “Oh you haven’t seen that one yet?” “What are you waiting for? Streaming??” You get the idea.

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Producers: James Wan, Jason Blum, Judson Scott, Adam Hendricks, Allison Williams, Ryan Turek, Mark David Katchur, Greg Gilreath, Michael Clear
Writers: James Wan, Akela Cooper
Cinematography: Simon Raby, Peter McCaffrey
Editor: Jeff McEvoy
Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Jenna Davis, Amie Donald, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Ronny Chieng
Runtime: 102 minutes
U.S. Studio/ Distributor: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Atomic Monster, Divide / Conquer
U.S. Release Date: January 6, 2023

This latest horror from James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) satirizes material culture by introducing the character M3GAN; she is an android invented by toy designer Gemma (Allison Williams) to replicate a child’s best friend. Using cloud technology, this bot is able to access unlimited data points in conversations with her human “owner”, Cady (Violent McGraw), who has tragically lost her parents and is now in custody of Gemma, her aunt. Grief-stricken and in need of a mother, Cady impresses herself emotionally to M3GAN, who both consoles and dotes on the little girl; however, she is also programmed to protect Cady from any pain whatsoever. Problems arise when this protection careens into murder on behalf of the child.

M3GAN invites us into a conventional world. Yes, it is troubled from the start, but it’s still a world we may find familiar: suburban landscapes, workaholics, and ubiquitous advertising. In fact, the advertising works on a meta level; within the first five minutes you’ll be wondering if PurrPetual Petz are real, and if so, where you can grab one. And like all good horror movies it establishes this safe, ordinary world so it can be effectively shattered by the ensuing violence.

The source of the violence is M3GAN, but ostensibly out of love and caring. These motives are at the heart of the movie’s thematic designs, both with M3GAN and between Cady and Gemma. The latter have been unexpectedly thrown together; they are essentially strangers now living together and reeling with unresolved grief. Their inability to honestly communicate their feelings is the tragic (relatable) aspect of the film. M3GAN sees this void and grows determined to replace Gemma as Cady’s caregiver. M3GAN, however, suffers from her own trauma; much like Frankenstein’s Monster, she has been created for a world that does not understand her. Consequently, she understands little of her place in it. Her journey is to educate herself in the ways of humanity and like Shelley’s creation, learns nothing but the cruelty people inflict on one another.

While thematically strong, the onscreen results are less convincing. Perhaps hemmed in by the PG-13 rating, M3GAN is unable to portray the level of violence one might expect. The robot is a rage machine by the finale and yet despite the collection of morons, assembled to gawk at her, she ignores them. Granted, her programming is focused on Cady, but the film nevertheless builds to a campy bloodbath that never materializes. It would be as if once unchained, Kong simply walked out of the theatre and hailed a cab for Skull Island.

The script also asks us to forgive a startling lack of motivating factors. Why exactly does M3GAN kill certain individuals, when they presumably don’t share connection to Cady? Why exactly does M3GAN dance? Why exactly is she able to control all electronics?

Even M3GAN doesn’t have all the answers!

Admittedly, these questions do not need answering to enjoy the flick. It is a humorous, campy romp with enough dramatic stakes to keep your attention. M3GAN, therefore, may very well endure as an early Gen-Z classic. For horror aficionados, however, there may not be enough bite to warrant a lasting legacy. M3GAN will not haunt your dreams, but she may have you thinking twice about your relationship with chat bots, AI, and social media.

by Vincent S. Hannam

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