M3GAN Is Horror Camp Done Right
M3GAN is an AI-powered girl. And at a time when so many studio movies feel driven by AI-powered plot engines and joke generators, M3GAN is the refreshing creation of loving human beings. A horror-comedy about a next-gen doll that pairs surveillance with companionship, M3GAN leans into the absurdity of its premise without ever winking too hard at its audience – in the process earning its laughs by respecting the preposterous reality it creates. More thriller than horror, M3GAN relies on perfect pacing and strong commitment from its actors to produce the perfect January trip to the cinema.
Gemma (Allison Williams) is developing the next big thing in in childhood toy technology – M3GAN, an artificially intelligent doll that can listen and respond to; protect; and even sing to her paired child. After Gemma suddenly becomes a parent to her tragically orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), she exploits the opportunity to show her boss a real-world example of M3GAN’s utility. One fawning CEO later, Gemma and M3GAN are on their way to fame and glory.
If only they could get the kinks worked out. M3GAN’s primary operating instructions focus on the protection of her paired partner – but to an untrained robot brain, the neighbor’s growling dog or the verbal sticks and stones of a playground bully pose the same level of threat as, say, the car that killed Cady’s parents. M3GAN has a mission, and collateral damage doesn’t concern her. Naturally, things go off the rails.
M3GAN comes from writer Akela Cooper, the scribe behind Malignant. The two films share a clear DNA, combining camp with an internal self-respect for their absurd premises. Cooper creates characters that take their ludicrous situations seriously – while both Cooper and her audience can find humor throughout her films, her characters are rarely in on the joke, but instead are granted sincere stakes and realistic behavior amidst the chaos. It’s just what the horror genre needed.
And M3GAN herself is a blissful creation. The doll is self-aware enough to know she’s smarter and stronger than other humans, but not overly conscious enough to realize when her actions barely resemble those of a flesh-and-blood person. Her earnest efforts to sing Cady a bed-time song are far funnier because they aren’t presented with a winking, tongue-in-cheek tone. And when those efforts go from humorous to murderous, it’s even more horrifying.