From director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound, 2014) and writer Akela Cooper (Malignant, 2021), comes the latest induction to the killer doll genre. The film opens to a hyper-colorful kids’ advertisement for “Purr Petual Petz,” a mobile app operated toy pet. This toy is a humorous send-up of the beloved Furby dolls of the late 90s and will instantly strike up a rapport with the audience, both young and old. It allows the parents’ generation among us access to the child’s world while demanding our undivided attention. So realistic is this opening mockup that one would be forgiven for thinking you were still stuck in the opening trailers. The comedic satire is established early, but we do not have to wait long for the tone to jarringly veer towards tragedy.
Eight-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw), while playing with the aforementioned toy, is the victim and sole survivor of a car accident that leaves her parentless. As guardian, Aunt Gemma (Alison Williams), a workaholic designer of robotic toys, steps up. Under pressure in her career, Gemma must produce a toy that sells successfully, but must also focus on helping Cady adjust to a new life in order to establish custody of her. They are thrown together by fate, but Gemma’s latest creation, M3GAN (Model 3 Generative ANdroid), seems to offer a quick fix solution for all their problems.
M3GAN (Amie Donald, voiced by Jenna Davis) is a pint-sized artificial intelligence robot doll that provides all the attention and emotional nourishment that Cady requires while also granting Gemma the career breakthrough of a lifetime. The childlike android is paired with her “primary user” and becomes friend, parent, and protector all at once to Cady. The child’s life has been turned upside down, and she is friendless, but the introduction of M3GAN fills that void while also eliminating the need for Gemma to actively parent. Ringing any bells yet?
The central theme of the film highlights our reliance on technology to remedy any and all of life’s issues. In particular, our acquiescence to letting technology usurp the parent’s role as the central part of our children’s lives and social development is placed in the spotlight. The protection provided by the android is predictably sinister, and its role as primary carer mirrors that of the technological age we live in, as the film examines technology’s end goals.
Technologies’ influence lurks everywhere in the film, from Tinder notifications to Alexa. There are also brief acknowledgments of online porn and gender-based violence in the film, the latter when a boy threatens Cady’s safety and turns on M3GAN instead. He attacks what he sees as a doll, but, needless to say, his intentions do not go according to plan. A subtle acknowledgment of the misogynist objectification of females online or technology as a tool of protection, both, or none? Judge for yourselves.
M3GAN, then, is essentially a marriage of the killer doll genre of Annabelle and the familiar A.I. gone rogue motif founded in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a film that is not ground-breaking by any means, and if you are looking for jump scares, look elsewhere; you can see what’s going to happen a mile off. But this does not detract one iota from the film’s enjoyment. The beauty of the film is that there are no surprises; it is all already part of our lives. It is more an uncanny social commentary than a horror, more science fact than science fiction, with spontaneous sing-alongs and a memorable Tik Tok dance to sweeten the deal.
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writers: Akela Cooper
Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronny Chieng, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez.
Running Time: 1hr 42mins
Genre: Horror/ Sci-Fi
Rating: 3 Stars
Shane McCormack writes