After one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of recent years, M3GAN is finally in cinemas for us all to enjoy. Jason Blum’s Blumhouse and James Wan’s Atomic Monsters have teamed up for another creepy doll horror movie – but it’s an extremely modern (or even futuristic) take on the trope.
Taking in everything from robots, AI, Alexas, iPads, TikTok, and more – M3GAN is very much a cautionary tale for the current age. Cady (Violet McGraw) is a typical tablet-obsessed child, but one who is lucky enough to have an Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), who works at FUNKI – one of the leading toy companies.
Gemma has sent Cady a ‘perpetual pet’ – a terrifying Furby-like creature whose selling point is that it won’t die before the child does, like your regular-degular flesh-and-blood pets. Cady’s parents are treating her to a long-planned ski trip, when they get into a fatal accident. Cady is then sent to live with Gemma, who is ill-equipped to deal with a child. She has collectables on her minimalist shelves, still in their boxes – not for playing with.
Gemma is also under a lot of pressure at work because a rival company has come up with a $50 version of the ‘perpetual pet.’ Gemma has also sunk an unauthorised 100 grand (as you do) into developing a new robot child’s companion called M3GAN – which her boss David (Ronny Chieng) is not happy about. Gemma continues to go rogue by still developing M3GAN, and she decides to test her out at home – as she now has the perfect guinea pig – Cady.
Underneath all of the campy fun of M3GAN, there is actually quite a moving story surrounding Cady’s grief. McGraw is impressive, as Cady has to navigate a therapist, and her Aunt Gemma (who she barely knows, or has any connection with).
Cady channels all of her heightened emotions into M3GAN and quickly forms a close bond with her new ‘friend.’ Cady is also under pressure to perform at Gemma’s work, as Gemma wants to prove that M3GAN has been worth the investment and that she can turn the company’s fortunes around.
The scenes where Gemma shows M3GAN to first her boss David, then to a group of investors are highlights of the film. They encapsulate the juggling of tones that writer Akela Cooper manages – with McGraw’s raw portrait of a grieving child, desperate for a distraction and someone to latch onto. Then M3GAN will do something cringy, like start singing, and the audience is laughing once again.
Of course, what everyone is waiting for is for M3GAN to be let off the leash and go fully wild, and that’s where things really ramp up and become fun. The different ways she deploys her vengeance and violence are inventive and witty – and often appropriate for the victim. It’s a shame that some of the best bits were spoiled in the trailer, as is often the case, but seeing each kill ramp up from the previous one is also gratifying.
Akela Cooper has proved herself to be the most exciting new writer in horror – between Malignant and now M3GAN. Anticipation for the upcoming The Nun 2 will be much higher now, knowing that she’s the writer. Allison Williams has also demonstrated great horror chops – in the likes of Get Out and The Perfection. She once again delivers a complex performance that can seem kind of ‘blank’ on the surface but that gradually yields more layers as time goes on.
Music is deployed brilliantly in M3GAN – especially when the glassy-eyed robot just suddenly starts singing what is presumably supposed to be a soothing lullaby to Cady, but it ends up being hilarious. Also, the PG-13 rating means that f-bombs are deployed sparingly, so therefore with much greater (and funnier) effect each time.
The relationship with technology is also explored in a surprisingly in-depth way in M3GAN. Parents and adults are often obsessing about parental controls and screen time with children, while at he same time being just as addicted to their phones as the kids are. Gemma has a device called Elsie in her home, which is a thinly-veiled proxy for Alexa, Echo, or Siri. The relationship between technology and education, or even child-rearing, is also teased apart.
Many aspects of the minefield that is raising a child are explored. Cady’s parents had been home-schooling her, meaning that she was even more dependent on them and on her tablet. One of the best scenes involves Gemma taking Cady to a hippy outdoor school in the hopes that she can start to interact with other (alive) kids. Gemma meets a nightmare mother-and-son combo who have some of the funniest lines between them. This is also the setting for one of M3GAN’s best moments.
The marketing for M3GAN was so good, that there was some fear that the movie itself would not live up to the hype. Thankfully, that is very much not the case. M3GAN is exactly the campy fun wild ride that you’re expecting, but also has some surprisingly emotional and thematic underpinnings.
The exploration of a child’s grief, as well as the relationship that both children and adults have with technology is more widespread than you might expect. The examination of the minefield that is child-rearing is also both funny and truthful. Akela Cooper’s writing, as well as Williams and McGraw’s performances are the standouts here. And M3GAN absolutely deserves to become the horror icon for the 2020s.
M3GAN lives up the hype, and provides all the campy fun that you would expect. But it’s also a surprisingly good exploration of a child’s grief and of our relationship with technology.