So… M3GAN tells the story about a cybernetic doll (Sorry, Android) who develops a deep connection with a child, so deep that the programming becomes corrupted and the doll goes on a killing spree, killing anyone it sees as a threat to the child it is designed to protect. Sound familiar? Yep, M3GAN sounds just like the plot of the Child’s Play reboot. Hell, through the marketing of M3GAN, the new doll on the block even tried to take shots at the original killer doll. Does M3GAN take the crown and become the Queen of the killers? Or does she need to humble herself before the King?
Title: M3GAN Production Company: Blumhouse Productions, Atomic Monster Productions, Divide/Conquer Distributed by: Universal Pictures Directed by: Gerard Johnstone Produced by: Jason Blum & James Wan Written by: Akela Cooper & James Wan Starring: Allison Williams, Jenna Davis, Violet McGraw Release dates: January 6, 2023 Running time: 102 minutes Rating: PG-13
In the mountains of Oregon, a couple, Ava and Ryan, and their daughter Cady are involved in a car accident while heading on a ski trip. Cady is the sole survivor and is sent to live with her maternal aunt Gemma, who is a roboticist at Funki, a technologically advanced toy company in Seattle. Gemma is working on developing M3GAN (short for Model 3 Generative Android), a life-like artificially intelligent doll designed to be a loyal companion to the child it is programmed for, and an ally to their caretakers.
After a test run for Gemma’s boss, David Lin goes haywire, he demands she abandons the project and focuses on remodeling another popular toy the company sells to maximize profits. Gemma and Cady struggle to adapt to their new situation; Gemma has difficulty stepping into parenthood, with work being her biggest priority, and Cady struggles to cope with the loss of her parents. To ensure that Cady is supervised while she focuses on her work, Gemma decides to finish developing M3GAN. After completing the doll, Gemma asks Cady to partake in a demonstration for David, during which she meets and is formally paired with M3GAN. Their interactions convince David that the doll will be a valuable investment and skyrocket the company to success.
M3GAN succeeds beyond Gemma’s expectations: she teaches Cady life lessons, reminds her to do things, and becomes a good friend to her. Though Gemma is pleased, her co-workers Tess and Cole, as well as Cady’s therapist Lydia, have concerns about the parental role that M3GAN has taken on in Cady’s life. Lydia, in particular, worries that Cady is creating strong emotional attachments to M3GAN that will be extremely difficult to break later on. Being designed to self-improve and adapt to her surroundings, M3GAN begins to operate more independently. With M3GAN’s primary goal being to protect Cady both emotionally and physically, she begins to target anything she deems a threat to Cady. M3GAN kills their neighbor Celia’s dog after it bites Cady, and later kills Celia when she accuses Gemma of being responsible for the dog’s disappearance. She also kills Brandon, a teenager who bullies Cady, by chasing him into the path of an oncoming car.
Gemma becomes suspicious after discovering that M3GAN has deliberately erased the data files containing footage of her victims’ deaths. When directly asking her whether or not she killed anyone, M3GAN insinuates that she did. Panicked, Gemma turns M3GAN off and takes her to consult with Tess and Cole. Cady starts suffering severe anxiety from being separated from M3GAN and becomes hostile to those around her. Gemma tells Cady that she does not need M3GAN and that the doll is a distraction from her feelings rather than a solution. She also apologizes for her absence and promises to be more of a parental figure for her.
Following a demonstration of M3GAN that wins over the company’s investors, a worldwide campaign is set to be launched in advance of the doll’s release to the public. However, due to her unpredictability, Gemma, Tess, and Cole decide to terminate M3GAN. While Gemma takes Cady home from the Funki building, Tess and Cole attempt to shut down M3GAN, but she attacks them both and causes an explosion in their lab. She kills both David and his assistant Kurt, framing it as a murder-suicide by the latter. She then steals a car and drives to Gemma’s house.
M3GAN confronts Gemma and offers to take over as Cady’s sole parental figure. Gemma attempts to shut M3GAN down again, but M3GAN overpowers Gemma and threatens to paralyze her so she will be unable to care for Cady. Cady, watching the fight unfold, uses Bruce, a motion capture robot that Gemma created in college, to tear M3GAN apart. However, M3GAN’s head and arms remain active, and she attempts to kill Cady. Gemma exposes a processing chip in M3GAN’s head that Cady stabs with a screwdriver, rendering M3GAN’s body lifeless.
With M3GAN seemingly dead, Gemma and Cady go outside as the police arrive with Tess and Cole. As they leave the house, the camera of Gemma’s smart home device turns to watch them.
Story Review – Some Vague Spoilers
At its core, M3GAN is a really good story. The multitude of psychological and technological implications are things that I could go on for hours about. From the psychological standpoint, M3GAN tells a great story about dealing with guilt and how the loss of parental figures can create attachments to objects, people, or connections to things that do not exist. Cady is a standout with all of this emotional weight on her shoulders and anyone who has had to deal with the trauma of death will instantly begin to see themselves in her situation. On the technological side of things, we have M3GAN herself, an android that can think, learn, and recite information at a whim, becoming smarter all the time to the point where we have to ask ourselves when is AI pushing the boundaries too far. M3GAN shows that a learning AI could be used for good things like emotional healing, but when the program becomes too self-aware and learns too much about the pain that comes with emotions without having those emotions themselves, things can turn for the worse. Much like Ultron in Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when an AI learns that the only way to save a human is to kill other humans, should we have created this AI, to begin with? These are some of the things that M3GAN will leave you thinking about long after you’ve finished watching the movie.
Primary & Secondary Victims… I mean… Users (Characters)
Amie Donald as M3GAN / Jenna Davis as the voice of M3GAN
This duo have created something very interesting the unique with M3GAN. As a creature effect, the movements of Donald as M3GAN are right up there with some of the limbless stunt people in Hollywood, but she also knows how to keep herself still enough to really give off that creep factor that a movie like this needs. As for Davis, her voice is the perfect tone of innocence and maleficent that will give you nightmares… Bonus points to Davis for the singing of songs like “Titanium” in such a way that it was scarier than some of the kills in M3GAN.
Allison Williams as Gemma Playing someone who is thrust into a parental situation that she never really wanted or could handle, Williams brings Gemma into the limelight as one of the central characters. She’s smart but doesn’t go about rubbing it in people’s faces like most smart women are shown these days, bragging over how much better they are than a man in the same field. Gemma is shown as wanting to just help Cady with the grief she feels but doesn’t know how, so she makes M3GAN in order to step in for something she doesn’t know how to do. Right intentions, wrong methodology. But that’s who is she. Gemma is a techy person and uses tech in the ways most modern people do, to fill gaps where their skills fail.
Violet McGraw as Cady
The emotional weight of M3GAN‘s story falls onto the young shoulders of McGraw as she brings Cady to life. Huge credit to the young actress for taking on something that would crush most children in the real world and would make most actors struggle to act. Every time Cady has an emotional moment, you can’t help but want to reach through the screen and give her a hug, McGraw’s acting is that damn good. Personally, I would put her up for a young actress Oscar if such a thing existed (Now that I think about it, why doesn’t it?).
The Rest of the Cast
Jen Van Epps as Tess
Brian Jordan Alvarez as Cole
Jack Cassidy as Brandon
Ronny Chieng as David Lin
Amy Usherwood as Lydia
Lori Dungey as Celia
Stephane Garneau-Monten as Kurt
Arlo Green as Ryan
Kira Josephson as Ava
Usually, I’d go through every character and their motivation, how they did in the role, etc. However, everyone outside the main three characters in M3GAN are just plain and boring stereotypes that are used to either drive the greed section of the movie or used as victim fodder. Ronny Chieng is the “blind to the risks, looking only at profit and fame” style boss character we have seen a million times in stories like this. Lori Dungey plays the typical Karen neighbor who blames everything on Gemma for no reason, including calling the cops on her too. Jack Cassidy plays the typical bully kid we’ve seen a million times. Most of the other cast members are corporate shills or Gemma’s co-workers who bring no real value to the plot at all, mainly there to be kill fodder later on.
The Next Dance Meme (What Worked)
A lot of what will keep people going while watching M3GAN is wondering what M3GAN will do next. While it does take the film time to “get to the good part” as they say, the story that is being told is something that you would not expect from a genre such as horror. Using a longer-than-usual setup to really draw you into the world of M3GAN and the emotional reasoning behind the character’s actions makes what happens late on much more impactful. When people are killed, there is a good reason for it, and you fully understand where M3GAN sits when it comes to the decisions that she makes in order to save Cady and obey her primary programming. On the other side of things, as I mentioned before, it is the emotional weight of the movie that drives the characters and really gets you invested in them, so once things go wrong, their reasoning to fight back is justified to fill the gap between them. Then there is the other part that I didn’t mention before: The company willing to sell such a product on the market, leaving you with the question of “is it ok for an android to take the place of a parent?” and what right does a company have to make this decision for us?
Of course, most people are here for the killings. While they do happen, and we do get to see some interesting kills in M3GAN, two words hurt these moments too much: PG… 13… Yep, we’ve got a film that could have delivered some really good kills on the same level as other killer dolls but we get those good parts left on the cutting room floor due to the studio wanting to push things back to get that PG13 rating because for some reason they think horror is for young teenagers… UGH! But gripes about the kills aside, you will get the dance scene that the studio really pushed in the marketing and its just as funny on the big screen as it was on TikTok.
Creative But Restricted (What Didn’t Work)
M3GAN is a James Wan film. For those of you who get a slight “I know that name” feeling, this was the guy behind the more recent SAW films, The Conjuring, and Annabelle… And Aqua Man. James Wan is a master of the modern-day horror experience, knowing just when to put that one thing into the frame that’ll make you jump a shriek in terror, or create a story that will fill your head with nightmares for months on end… Just ask anyone who watched all the Annabelle movies as a marathon. It’s because we know that James has a good history with horror and creepy dolls that my wife and I thought M3GAN was going to be right up there with his other films, giving us something to scare people with for a long time to come. M3GAN had the potential to be the Chucky of the 21st century, slashing and scaring her way through bodies in a long series of films, but after it was over, I think M3GAN is a one-and-done.
As I mentioned above, one of the biggest things that really hurt M3GAN was a PG13 rating, something that no horror film should ever have for a big cinema release. TV, sure, it’s worked before. Just look at the recent Chucky TV series and you can see that gruesome horror can be done for a teenage audience and still be frightening for the old school horror-heads like me who grew up on real slasher shit. M3GAN starts to get going time and time again with some of the more creative kills using everyday objects that I’ve seen since the Final Destination movies, but right when you get to that impact of the killing moment, the editing cuts away or moves onto the next scene, and only once kept the results of a kill on screen for more than a few seconds.
It’s a shame that M3GAN suffers from a combination of studio interference to push a rating (Notes from interviews with people involved in M3GAN‘s production have said there is a lot of good stuff on the cutting room floor and really want to push for an unrated cut of the film sometime after the home media release) and knowing James Wan’s work so well that I know he can do a lot better. I was told by my wife that Wan wrote M3GAN in his early days, long before he did The Conjuring or Annabelle, and like George Lucas with Star Wars, needed technology to catch up to his idea before he could make the film. While this sounds like a good reason, it stands to the fact that while the technology was catching up, Wan could have done more with the script and used his experience with Annabelle in really spice up things to the level where M3GAN would be a contender for the horror icon crown, but this version isn’t going to cut it.
She Came at the King… And Missed (Closing)
Once the credits rolled on M3GAN, I turned to my wife and said “I’m glad we saw it, but we wasted cinema money on this” and she agreed. From all the trailers, memes, and promotion battles with Chucky and other Horror dolls, M3GAN hyped itself up as a modern-day scare-fest about where technology is going… Except that is not what we got at all. M3GAN is a really good psychological look at trauma created through death and how attachment can be destructive… Just with a twist of the item/person of attachment being a doll who quickly out-learns her programming and goes the route most AI stories go: With the destruction of people in order to save them from harming themselves.
If you look at M3GAN from a purely psychological standpoint (Which I tend to do due to my Grief and Loss training in my qualifications in Community Service) then it’s an amazing movie about grief and loss from a child’s perspective. However, M3GAN is meant to be a Horror movie, with promises of Child’s Play levels of scares… To which M3GAN has failed. For all the hype and praise most will give this movie as the ultimate killer doll movie, we need to remember that we live in a world where things like Chucky and Annabelle exist, one of which is a James Wan film too, showing that he can do a lot better with the concept than what we got in the finished product.
M3GAN had the potential to come after the King of the killer dolls, Chucky. The promotional material, which included a Twitter beef between M3GAN, Chucky, Annabelle, and the Jigsaw Puppet from SAW really gave the impression that this was going to be the modern-day version of the new slasher Queen… But being saddled with a PG13 rating and a script, while psychologically fascinating, was poor and undercooked. James Wan is known for doing better than this with the same type of characters, but you can tell that M3GAN‘s code was just not compiling as it should.
M3GAN‘s singing of “Titanium” is scarier than most kills
Psychologically fascinating with the subject of grief and replacement from a child’s point of view
The M3GAN duo doing great body and voice work
A PG13 rating
James Wan has done better
The long setup with little payoff in kills might bore some people