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In the Fall of 2022, the horror movie community got a jolt when the trailer for director Gerard Johnstone’s and screenwriter Akela Cooper’s sci-fi/horror film, M3GAN, dropped. The trailer’s creepy, dancing doll, at once recognizable both as human-shaped and unhuman in its weird movements and affectless face, became a viral sensation. M3GAN is more than an AI-enhanced toy. It is our tour guide through the uncanny valley of humanoid robots on the way into the abject, that place where humanity’s oldest and scariest nightmares live.

M3GAN (2022) is the latest offering in a long tradition of cautionary stories to warn audiences about the danger of hubris and an ambitious reach for forbidden knowledge. Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden for eating from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge is one of the oldest. Another familiar classic is Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein. The grandmother of all science fiction tales, Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with creating life and the tragic consequences that followed, made science the new Tree of Knowledge and the source of many modern terrors. Those are very tall shoulders for the adorably unsettling M3GAN to dance on.

Horror genre veterans Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) and writer Akela Cooper (Malignant) present their cautionary fable through the lens of modern society’s addiction to technology and its dangerous side effects on children and the family. Gemma (Allison Williams) takes niece Cady (Violet McGraw) in after her parents are killed in a car wreck. She realizes that balancing her career as an AI-enhanced, smart toy designer and raising a pre-teen child, especially a traumatized one, is too much. She needs help.

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Her plan is to combine the two different responsibilities. Cady can help her at work by product testing her latest toy. The toy, the Model 3 Generative Android, M3GAN for short, is a companion to children that can protect them. While Cady puts M3GAN through its paces, M3GAN can supervise Cady and keep her safe and happy. The two entities take to each other and Gemma sees Cady has turned to M3GAN for emotional support. Gemma orders M3GAN to protect her niece from all forms of harm. However, she neglected to program any fail safes or restrictions, such as Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, to protect humans from their android creations.

 M3GAN is the weaponization of parents’ fears that they cannot do the job of raising their own children. M3GAN’s unrestricted programming allows it to take over raising Cady. Incapable of telling the difference between the healthy tears of grief during therapy, and tears of fear from a bully, M3GAN reacts with aggression and deadly force.

The movie has plenty of positive strengths to offer viewers: an interesting story, Grade A level special effects, and a cast that does a fantastic job bringing their characters to life. M3GAN’s greatest strength is its child stars. Violet McGraw, as pre-teen Cady, gives a courageous and unrestrained portrayal of the grieving Cady.  When Gemma tries to separate her from M3GAN, she erupts in a heart-wrenching and raw outburst.

 In contrast to Cady’s emotional performance, eleven-year-old Amie Donald, as the physical embodiment of the M3GAN, is just as powerful. Working with a movement coach, she gave the tiny terminator machine-like movements to remind the audience that M3GAN may look human but is, in fact, not. A dancer and gymnast, Donald also choreographed the viral dance scene and came up with M3GAN’s four-footed pursuit of bully Brandon (Jack Cassidy). Jenna Davis was M3GAN’s creepy, subhuman voice.

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Despite the conclusion being a little clunky and M3GAN’s murderous assault on Funki (Gemma’s employer) being clipped for a PG-13 rating, M3GAN is an enjoyable and engaging film, especially for younger horror movie fans. Akela Cooper’s script uses the personal stories of Cady’s grief and Gemma’s career concerns to bring the dangers of too much progress home. The emotional story is well-balanced, with the creative and effective action sequences. The superlative creature design of the android M3GAN, a tour de force of animatronics and human performance, underlines how attractive technology can be, no matter what the cost. For real horror fans, M3GAN raises the bar for scary dolls to new heights. 

There is already news about a more explicit, gorier version for the VOD release, and I cannot wait! 



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