M3gan Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Stars: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Amie Donald, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Stephane Garneau-Monten, Lori Dungey, Jack Cassidy, Amy Usherwood.
There have been many films that warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence and our addiction to technology and how technology can quickly get out of control with sometimes deadly consequences – from the rogue computers of HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and Demon Seed to Skynet in James Cameron’s T2: Judgment Day and Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld, which itself was a huge influence on Cameron’s Terminator movies. And there have also been lots of films featuring killer dolls, most notably the Child’s Play series in which the popular Chucky doll was possessed by the spirit of a serial killer, and the Annabelle franchise produced by James Wan.
And now from Blumhouse, which a studio that specialises in the horror genre, comes a film that combines these two threads. M3gan has been produced and co-written by Wan who has collaborated with New Zealand filmmaker Gerard Johnstone (2014’s low budget horror film Housebound, etc) and makes for an entertaining blend of horror and sci-fi.
M3gan (the Model 3 Generative Android) is the latest advanced creation from robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams, from Get Out, etc), who works for Funki, a cutting-edge toy corporation based in Seattle. The company has recently achieved success with its cute range of Purpetual Pets, a line of robotic pets that are interactive. But a rival company has managed to steal their thunder by producing a range of android toy pets at a cheaper cost, much to the chagrin of Funki’s narcissistic CEO David (comedian Ronny Chieng, from Crazy Rich Asians, etc). But then Gemma suddenly finds herself playing a surrogate mother role to her nine-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw, from The Haunting Of Hill House, etc), whose parents were killed in a car crash while on holidays. A workaholic, Gemma has little in the way of maternal feelings and seems unable to help Cady process her grief and loss.
She turns to her work and uses her knowledge to recalibrate her prototype robot into M3gan, a life-size, fully functional android that has been updated with the latest adaptive AI technology enabling it to respond to its owner and learn emotional responses. M3gan’s main function is to act as caregiver and to protect Cady from physical and emotional harm.
Cady becomes attached to Megan and soon seems to overcome her sense of loss. The bond between the two is strong, but Gemma grows concerned as M3gan seems to increase her knowledge and protective nature. And soon M3gan takes her caretaking responsibilities far too literally, killing the neighbour’s vicious dog after it bites Cady, and scaring a bully named Brandon (Jack Cassidy) at a school outing in the woods. And when David has been introduced to M3gan and sees how she responds to Cady he prepares for a spectacular public launch of the AI doll. But we suspect that it’s not going to end well.
M3gan was written by Akela Cooper (2021’s Malignant), and it explores themes of grief, parenthood and technology. Originally the concept was much gorier with lots more violence and bloodletting, but the script was toned down in order to attract a lesser rating so the film could be seen by a predominantly teenaged audience, arguably its main demographic. There is apparently a bloodier version waiting to be released at a later date. The film loosely reworks the Frankenstein legend, but Johnstone deftly balances the horror elements with some subversive camp humour here to good effect even though he telegraphs many of the film’s punches.
M3gan has been convincingly brought to life on screen by a combination of puppetry, digital effects, and she has also been played physically by Amie Donald, a dancer who moves lithely, while the slightly robotic and creepy voice is provided by TikTok star Jenna Davis. This is not the first horror film for McGraw, who joins a long line of child actors who have appeared in some scary and bloody films (Danny Lloyd in The Shining, Linda Blair in The Exorcist, etc) and she acquits herself well. And Lori Dungey makes for a perfectly awful next-door neighbour as Celia (her presence is reminiscent of Anne Ramsey in Throw Momma From The Train).
There is some good production design from Oscar winning Kim Sinclair (Avatar, etc) that creates Gemma’s house and her laboratory. The film has been crisply shot on location in New Zealand by cinematographers Peter McCaffrey and Simon Raby (Mortal Engines, etc).
Even though it is retreading some familiar ideas, M3gan is an enjoyable B-grade horror film that easily lends itself to a franchise.