M3GAN (2022)

Rating: C-

Dir: Gerard Johnstone
Star: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Ronny Chieng

Needs more psycho prepubescent robots on the rampage. I mean, is that really too much to ask? It is a good reminder of why PG-13 horror films are almost inevitably not worth the SIM card they’re shot on, This is competent enough, to be sure, with occasional jabs at unfettered commercialism, such as the delightfully bad-taste advert with which it opens. Yet it’s inevitably going to fail, because true horror is definitely not safe for a teenage audience. Even as satire, it’s more of a gentle nibble than the full-scale mauling I wanted to see. 

Cady (McGraw) loses her parents in a car accident, and goes to live with her aunt, Gemma (Williams), who works in R&D for toy company Funki. Her pet project is the Model 3 Generative Android, a life-sized companion capable of learning from the child it’s paired with. Gemma brings home the prototype M3GAN (Donald) for Cady, and the two bond. What could possibly go wrong? Well, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know. M3GAN becomes the overly-attached girlfriend in robotic form, with the strength to “protect” Cady from all threats, real and perceived. That starts with the neighbour’s dog, escalates to a school bully plus the neighbour herself, and ends with Gemma becoming the target, after she realizes that her creation is no longer just a plastic pal who’s fun to be with.

I like the idea here. There’s no doubt learning AI’s are not inevitably a good idea. Remember Microsoft’s Twitter chatbot? In 2016, it quickly learned from that social media cesspool, and within hours was saying things like, “Bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job.” So the idea that M3GAN would end up with a twisted idea of protection isn’t impossible. Giving a child’s toy full-on combat abilities, and the strength to go with it though… Yeah. There’s also the way M3GAN is supposed to be a top-secret project, yet Cady does everything short of making a “Come and look at our killer robot” post on NextDoor. A few simple tweaks could have fixed this, albeit at the cost of losing the tween audience for which it seems to be aiming.

And that was the problem for me, with this the “Is Diet Pepsi alright?” of horror movies: I guess it’ll do. The look of M3GAN is well-realized, deliberately aiming for the uncanny valley. There are moments when she shifts mode, and there is a genuine chill in the beyond-human which results, albeit only for a few seconds. Or the understated way M3GAN plays Martika’s Toy Soldiers on the piano. There are smart people at work here. They just appear to have been hamstrung by the rating requirement, rather than imagination being allowed unfettered rein to push the concept to its bloody conclusion. Thia is needed, because for those of us who have actually endured the terrors of raising a genuine, flesh and blood teenage girl, a PG-13 robotic version isn’t going to leave us shaking in our boots.