Though hardly significant, Gerard Johnstone’s comic horror film arrives at a moment when the debate about the meaning of artificial intelligence is finally getting a serious airing, owing mainly to the emergence and popularity of ChatGPT. M3GAN has nothing to say about jobs lost or even the possibility of AI usurping human agency in the world. It’s more a cautionary tale about lazy parenting. The titular android’s murderous tendencies are simply a function of its programmed utility to protect a child from what it senses as harm.
Horror veteran Akela Cooper’s screenplay, however, is almost as lazy as the parenting on display. Eight-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw) is orphaned when her parents are killed in a car accident that she survives. Severely traumatized, she is left in the care of her unmarried Aunt Gemma (Alison Williams), a robotics expert who works for a very competitive toy company trying to come up with virtual and mechanical pets. Hounded at work by superiors who don’t think she’s trying hard enough (“Let’s kick Hasbro in the dick!”), Gemma has barely enough time to deal with this new addition to her household, let alone provide her with the psychological comforts that she needs to overcome her PTSD, which is exactly what a court-appointed psychiatrist says to Gemma. So she improvises in a way that also helps her with her work load, modifying a prototype humanoid robot that is designed to hold and analyze large amounts of input data and creating a playmate for Cady, one that, in addition to amusing her, sets her on the correct path for socialization by reminding her to do things like wash her hands before a meal. Though the technology is still in development, Cady quickly takes to her new companion so thoroughly that she doesn’t seem to care much for human companions her own age. Meanwhile, Gemma’s slimy boss sees the possibilities of a M3GAN rollout and badgers Gemma even more to get the thing ready for mass production.
The most interesting aspect of M3GAN is the doll itself, which is dressed like doper’s idea of a 1970s Catholic schoolgirl and manifests movements that suggest a nerd with a lot of self-confidence but no real world experience. These attributes add to the creepy humor of the horror sequences once M3GAN identifies what it senses as threats to Cady’s well-being, including a bullying preteen male and, climactically, the CEO who is the main villain of the movie, but these sequences turn out to be unsatisfying as horror. M3GAN would have been much better had it simply went all-out as a comedy. AI-based horror movies are so 2010.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
M3GAN home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2021 Universal Studios