With the directing talents of Gerard Johnstone, whose Housebound remains an underappreciated horror-comedy, and a screenplay from Akela Cooper – responsible for the insanity of Malignant’s script – Blumhouse’s latest original horror property is another solid addition to its sturdy line of modern slashers. However, where films like Freaky and Happy Death Day provide exciting concepts to explore, Johnstone’s M3GAN seems solely focused on introducing a new heroine to the list of iconic slasher villains. In the process, it tries to balance a bevy of technological phobias that stall M3GAN from focusing on what matters: a dancing A.I. doll that literally slays.
After a car crash takes her parents’ lives, Cady (Violet McGraw) is sent to live with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) – an engineer for a toy company that is being pushed to deliver a cheaper competitor to all the other toy companies out there. However, her goals are loftier than that, and she really wants to create the toy of all toys. Something that will cost her company, Funki, a lot of money to research and develop but might just be the last toy anyone ever buys.
Enter M3gan: a doll designed to look like a real girl (played by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis) but its artificial intelligence is always learning. Hence, it is almost impossible to discern the difference minus the creepy eyes and slightly animatronic mouth/voice dissonance that is endlessly unnerving. M3gan represents the future of technology and is a saving grace for parents everywhere. Now every child can have a best friend, someone who will care for them above all else and the parents can ensure their child is being taken care of emotionally so they can focus on their careers and providing for the family.
What’s brilliant about Cooper’s screenplay is that it understands immediately the positive impact this would have on a parent and the negative impact it would have on a child who would now never develop the appropriate social skills needed to adjust to the real world. What would that future look like? A mass of children who grow up latched onto the internet and technology as their sole guiding light into adulthood turns them into increasingly dissociative and angry people whenever that technology is absent. M3GAN isn’t fully about that, but it broaches the topics on a regular basis using Cady and M3gan’s relationship as a case study that can easily be extrapolated into something far more interesting.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword though because M3GAN is at its best when it doesn’t take any of that into account. Instead, it’s better as just a movie about a doll that gets increasingly more protective to the point of killing anyone who threatens Cady’s happiness. Its presentation of an A.I. quickly learning self-preservation and its superiority over a species so easily manipulated is where M3GAN shines brighter than in its guardian-child relationship and processing of grief. An early scene where M3gan is pitched to executives is a definitive example of manipulation over basic human emotion that leans into greed and ego’s power over common sense.
Of course, M3GAN is also most enjoyable when it fully realizes its potential as a horror film. The fear of dependence on technology is brought to an extreme when characters aren’t locked out of their houses or unable to make phone calls; instead, they’re forced to face a computer that will directly kill them. This one has seen TikTok though and is more than capable of murdering in style. Although, Johnstone’s film sometimes suffers from its PG-13 rating giving it a relatively bloodless experience where the thrills are in the build-up less than they are in the execution. Save for some gnarlier sequences, the fact that M3gan is made of titanium and relatively indestructible ends up giving it more of a cartoonish angle than an R-rating may have allowed.
What results is a movie that is occasionally smarter than it looks but also never takes that all the way. Instead, Johnstone’s film revels in the humor of its premise complete with pop songs and children’s toys gone awry. M3GAN is a film that ends by fully embracing its sillier elements but begins by trying to process the headier concepts at play – something which makes M3GAN a difficult film to thoroughly enjoy. There’s a fun concept in here and a frightening one, but M3GAN seems to just set up the latter at the detriment of the former.