I’m sure we’ve all seen this story before. A beloved child’s plaything takes on a life of its own and in an effort to preserve its own self and way of life, it sees murder as the most viable option. No? Haven’t seen this concept before? Well, maybe you’ve seen the story where the artificial intelligence breakthrough that was initially deemed as a step into a new and brighter future backfired as a rushed and dangerous experiment with lethal consequences. If neither of these tropes are hitting home then I’m wondering where you’ve been for the past 30 years as these ideas have dominated pop culture for as long as I can remember. Although both of these concepts have existed for decades, but this take on the topic from the Blumhouse backed team of director Gerard Johnston and writer Akela Cooper is fresh, new, and as strange as it is for me to say, good. I never thought I’d call this movie good because at the end of the day, I just do not like horror movies.
That’s where this review should really start. That is, with the clarification that this isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense. Sure, there are a few jump scares but they come as an expected and cushioned blow rather than an obtuse mallet to the senses. The PG-13 rating all but guarantees blood is kept to a minimum and that gore is out of the question. In fact, at no point did I feel scared, horrified, grossed out, or any of the usual emotions I have during most horror movies. Instead, I was on the edge of my seat trying to see where this story was going and having a genuine laugh at every juncture along the way.
The essence of horror is the exact same as comedy, which is the presence of something that shouldn’t be there, or the absence of something that should. Because of that, these two genres are in many ways of a kind, despite the surface level polarities. While one may view a horror movie that turns out to be comedic to simply be a failure, I do not, at least in this case. The filmmakers and cast take their roles very seriously. At no point is the comedy coming from their lack of professionalism or care. In fact, the comedy is coming from their stellar work and the almost absurdist candor at which this story unfolds. In the end, I was glad because I haven’t laughed this much in a theater in about a year.
As I mentioned, I sort of hate horror movies. While there are many good ones, I tend to avoid the genre because it tends to be a slow crawl where the heroes (may) win a shallow victory and the proverbial monster’s victory is (likely) cut short by what seems to be the plot, at best. Even then, the plot is often so paper thin that a dash of hot water would cause it to utterly dissolve. After seeing something like that, I always find myself feeling defeated rather than glad to have lived through the experience. With M3GAN, what we have is quite the opposite. There’s an actual plot with deeply human characters that are struggling through a tough situation: the protagonist, played well by Allison Williams, is learning to be a parent to her niece, played by the talented and young Violet McGraw, who in turn is learning to cope with the loss of her parents after a tragic accident.
I know I said at the beginning of this review that this was a movie about a doll coming to life and the dangers of AI, but it’s not once you peel back the layers. It’s a film about what it means to be a parent and what it means to cope with loss. It’s about the struggles of a parent to both be the authority figure in a young child’s life while also being their friend. It’s even about the dangers of giving a child too much technology, so much so that you could almost question who the real parent is: the humans that birthed them or the iPad that accompanies them wherever they go. This movie gave me a lot to like, but what got me most excited was the fact that it had a point and that it did not bore me nor lecture me in order to make it.
This is the first time in my time as a writer on film that I’ll recommend seeing a horror movie, but I do wonder if those who love horror movies will actually enjoy it. Judging from the reactions of the passionate few who actually waited in line for a chance to see this movie, it just might be, but I can’t be sure. If you love blood, gore, a terrifying antagonist, and the sensation of helpless fear, seek help. But also, this is not the film for you.
M3GAN comes out in theaters this Friday, January 6th.