I’ll admit it: I had low expectations for “M3GAN.” A film tackling the existential horror of AI technology, made by a middle-aged production team? This sort of movie doesn’t exactly have the best track record. (See “Nerve,” “Unfriended,” etc.) Add in the difficulty of balancing horror with comedy, and “M3GAN” seemed like a recipe for disaster. However, when I finally sat down to watch it in the theater, I was pleasantly surprised.
“M3GAN” follows tech developer Gemma (Allison Williams), a workaholic struggling to connect with her recently orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw). When Gemma creates a lifelike android, M3GAN, to be a companion for the little girl, things quickly go awry as her mission to protect Cady at all costs takes a violent turn.
Beat for beat, it’s not a particularly original film. The “invention gone wrong” story can be traced back to Frankenstein, and it hasn’t changed much since then. However, its skillful use of comedy to critique the tech industry sets “M3GAN” apart. It taps into that existential dread we all have about being replaced by technology while simultaneously delighting in the schadenfreude of watching egotistical tech CEOs get murdered by their own inventions.
Additionally, the film is gloriously gory. Because M3GAN’s defining character trait is her lack of humanity, she mechanically and methodically racks up a sizable kill count. The viewer understands that a human villain isn’t committing these vile actions, which means the film doesn’t have to tackle that classic quandary that bogs so many horror stories down: Are humans inherently evil? “M3GAN” is uninterested in answering this question, which allows for the deaths to get bloodier and bloodier without the tone becoming too serious.
A few excellent performances breathe life into the already strong story. Child actors are notoriously bad in horror, but McGraw brings a surprising emotional depth to the character of Cady, and Jenna Davis as the voice of M3GAN perfectly straddles the line between youthful innocence and computerized inhumanity. It is Williams, though, who steals the show. Gemma is a dynamic character who changes a lot over the course of the film, and Williams’ subtle performance makes this development feel natural and believable.
Another of the film’s strongest points is its CGI, and not for the reason you might expect. It most definitely doesn’t look photorealistic (more Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four than “Avatar: The Way of Water”), but by falling into the uncanny valley, the CGI contributes to the unsettling atmosphere. The subtle differences between M3GAN and the other characters are a major theme of the film, and conveying this visually spares the viewers from having this explained in expositional dialogue.
“M3GAN” has something to offer everyone: If you are a horror newbie, the humor will provide a sense of levity that keeps you from getting too scared. If you’re a megafan, there are enough gory deaths and references to iconic horror franchises to keep you hooked. Because I highly recommend checking the film out for yourself, I won’t spoil the ending, but let me just say this: After seeing the final shot, you’ll want to take a baseball bat to all of your electronics. For a film about the horrors of technology, I think that is pretty much the highest praise possible.