My kids wanted to see this movie this past weekend, so I went into the theater with low expectations. From the previews, I expected M3GAN to be a schlocky B-movie, along the lines of the Chucky franchise. In fact, it turned out to be a clever and even thought-provoking black comedy for the first three-quarters of the running time, although at that point it seemed content to fall into standard horror movie conventions rather than try for something more interesting. Still, it proved to be a much better and smarter horror flick than I had anticipated, and with some genuine scares as well.
M3GAN draws from a deep horror well–many viewers will be reminded of the Living Doll episode of the Twilight Zone (one of the scariest episodes that show ever produced), others will find the ending very similar to the first Terminator film (my son also mentioned similarities to the final scene of Aliens). But for my money, M3GAN is a modern-day retelling of the Frankenstein story–a well-meaning but naive scientist meddles with the fundamental forces of nature to create a new form of life, without providing the moral guidance necessary for that lifeform to mentally and emotionally mature.
Cady is a young girl whose parents die in a collision with a snowplow in the first scene. She goes to live with her aunt Gemma, who lives in Seattle and works for a high-tech toy company. Despite her workplace, Gemma is not really a fun person–her house is minimalist because she’s a workaholic and spends most of her time at the office. She created the toy company’s biggest product line, a series of cute robotic pets, but unfortunately, that toy is now being undercut by a cheaper competitor.
But Gemma has a new product she’s working on–a life-size doll called Model 3 Generative Android (M3GAN). M3GAN is a talking doll that can have real conversations and learn from its interactions. She has programmed it to pair with a child, which the doll will then bond with and protect. Since Gemma has no toys at her house to play with, she decides she can kill two birds with one stone by testing the prototype M3GAN on Cady.
Cady instantly takes to M3GAN and soon the two are inseparable. Cady and M3GAN do everything together. Cady even seems to forget about her parents’ deaths. Gemma’s boss decides to use Cady in the promotional material for the upcoming press conference where M3GAN will be revealed to the world, and pressures Gemma to get ready M3GAN ready as soon as possible before the company’s competitor’s can find out about the new toy.
However, M3GAN has started displaying some unexpected behavior. For one, she seems able to override Gemma’s instructions when Gemma asks her to shut down. (Maybe Gemma shouldn’t have skipped adding the parental controls in her rush to get M3GAN ready for the press conference?) It also seems that M3GAN interprets her programming to protect Cady too literally. For instance, the neighbor’s big, snarly dog disappears one day after biting Cady’s arm. Could M3GAN have been involved with its disappearance? And then on a school field trip, M3GAN chases an older bullying boy who confronts Cady in the woods. M3GAN rips off his ear and pushes him in front of an oncoming truck down at the highway, although Cady and the adults don’t see it.
Gemma suspects something is wrong, and on the way to the big press conference, decides to pull the plug on the project. But at the lab, M3GAN doesn’t want to be shut down. In fact, Gemma’s attempt to do so makes Cady upset, and now M3GAN sees Gemma and her co-workers as a threat to Cady’s safety. And M3GAN will do anything to protect Cady….
Story/Plot/Characters— The script expertly walks the difficult line of balancing black humor with genuinely scary moments, the dialogue and characters are completely believable, the acting is great. The movie raises a lot of interesting themes about what whether M3GAN is conscious and what, if anything, her creator and humanity owe her. At the end, though, it sort of gives all that up for a standard horror ending, and makes a real misstep in the final confrontation that I won’t describe further so as not to spoil the ending. (3.5 points)
Special Effects— The special effects are so good, you don’t even notice them, if that makes sense. I mean, it must have taken a huge amount of effort with animatronics to make M3GAN seem realistic, but she comes across so naturally in the movie–a life-size talking doll, why not?–you don’t even think about it. (2 points)
Scariness— Some fairly scary scenes and situations. (1.5 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— Not much. This is mostly set in Gemma’s suburban house and open-plan office building. (0 points)
Total=7 points (Excellent)
An overall Excellent movie that could have been even better if the producers had tried for a more ambitious ending.