M3GAN  – ★★★
Everything in M3GAN is “in vogue”: sentient artificial intelligence (readers must have had their fill of it with Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and McEwan’s Machines Like Me, and viewers – with After Yang (2021), Finch (2021) and Brian and Charles (2022)), cinematic mishmash of genres, and, in line with Ari Aster’s popular creations, a stark contrast between the film’s beginning and its end, i.e. overblown showdown. And, yet, few things actually work. In this story, Gemma (Allison Williams (Get Out (2017)), a leading futuristic toy developer, assumes the responsibility for her ten-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw) who has lost her parents in a car crash. However, Gemma is not ready to become a full-time mom just yet and has an idea to shift this task to a newly constructed sentient doll-robot – M3GAN (Megan). The robot is a technological marvel that grows in intelligence as it bonds with a child, imitating human life, and Cady is ecstatic to receive this human-like playmate. But, as with all things that seem too good to be true, this doll-robot actually has some serious issues. So does this film. Though all the special effects and artificial intelligence on display awe, the plot’s intentionally ludicrous second half and its mix of genres (comedy, horror and sci-fi) leave the film devoid of much needed conviction and substance, and it ends up to be neither an enjoyable comedy (too scary for that), nor a convincing horror (too funny for that), nor a serious science fiction (too preoccupied with establishing the other two).
M3GAN’s points of reference are numerous: RoboCop (1987), Child’s Play (1988), Orphan (2009), and Annabelle (2014), to name just a few, and McGraw’s Cady initially makes for a deeply sympathetic, though increasingly annoying and even “eerie”, child who is overjoyed to receive her new sentient doll. We even discover that M3GAN is not Gemma’s only robotic invention of significance, as the brilliant show of “cool”, futuristic gadget effects sweep aside any melodrama (together with any meaningful, realistic and convincing exploration of grief) to reveal moments of graphically stylish wonder. However, very soon, all the science fiction “intelligence”, including subtle fears about the robot having more power and control than is desired, is cast aside in favour of one’s predictable slasher with familiar tropes and jump-scares, as quick-minded M3GAN lets everyone know that she has a will of her own. An emotional punch does come towards the end, but – we have just been whizzed through some of the most laughable “horror” on screen – would we really care for any heart-warming scenes at this point? Then, knowing what an unwilling and emotionally distant carer Gemma really was for Cady, does the film want to send a timely message that parents should pay more attention to their children and, perhaps, ease off social media or careerism? We can only guess.
Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN is not some truly horrifying creation of James Wan (though he is one of the producers), nor Ari Aster’s subtle horror artistry, nor even some Shyamalanian flick that subverts expectations. It is a better-than–average science fiction-premised horror-comedy, elevated by the show of futuristic technology and a couple of spectacularly powerful scenes. And, I think it has a lesson to learn: when something is meant to be credibly scary, it should not be too ridiculous, and when something is too ridiculous, it can no longer be a credible science fiction. I can only hope that the sequel will not dig itself the same hole. Yes, M3GAN 2.0. is already in development.