Defining Dissatisfaction – Is M3GAN Just Misunderstood?

Keaton Shaffer, Staff Writer

M3GAN is a weird movie. Its uncertain tone coupled with some unexpectedly non-archetypal actions from the titular antagonist makes for what, at first glance, seems like a pretty silly take on the “evil AI” story. Like seriously, not even the PG-13 rating will tip you off to this insanity; if you thought M3GAN dancing in the trailers was an unusual sight, you’ve got another thing coming.

Released Jan. 6, the movie seems to be played pretty straight as horror, at least in the beginning. The movie follows a roboticist named Gemma, played by Allison Williams, who is under pressure from the toy company she works at to recreate her past successes. When her sister is suddenly killed in a car accident, Gemma becomes the sole guardian of her niece, a young girl named Cady. In a contrived effort to both satiate her boss and reduce her responsibilities as a caregiver, Gemma invents M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android, a life-sized doll with the ability to learn. Shockingly, things then proceed to go terribly wrong.

If you go in thinking that M3GAN is going to leave you on edge, don’t worry. There isn’t a single scene in M3GAN that would scare anybody over the age of 8. There’s no sense of dread knowing that M3GAN isn’t going to adhere to her programming, she’s just not threatening. Granted, her design is quite off-putting, pulling from that ‘uncanny valley’ look. But this movie breaks the first rule of horror — putting their creepy character on full display, for the whole movie. M3GAN might as well have as much screen time as Gemma. Seriously, the movie even drops a full scene of exposition about how M3GAN operates and how she can be destroyed before she even gets turned on. We have nothing to fear because we have nothing left to find out about this antagonist. 

But, to give the creators the benefit of the doubt, that could all be on purpose. It’s pretty evident that M3GAN isn’t supposed to be your typical movie monster. A specific scene that makes this point is when M3GAN begins to sing Cady to sleep with David Guetta’s 2011 hit featuring Sia, “Titanium.” It’s like you’re suddenly watching a different movie, and afterwards, it’s hard to take anything the robot does or says seriously. There’s nothing scary about this ridiculously on-the-nose musical choice. It’s goofy, and it only brings up further questions about what this movie is supposed to be.

There are a variety of comedic moments, but it’s hard to tell whether they’re purposeful or not. M3GAN singing, dancing, running on all fours — it’s clear that somebody intended to have M3GAN lean closer to Chucky than Annabelle. But M3GAN possesses basically no personality, a far cry from the beloved horror icon. You’d be hard pressed to pick out a moment that made you laugh with the filmmakers rather than at them in M3GAN

So then, what are we left with? Any way you interpret this film, it’s still realized as a joke. Either M3GAN is a PG-13 horror movie that can’t decide to be scary or to make fun of itself, or it’s an unfunny and unremarkable satire of the “living doll” trope. It’s upsetting to be honest, because the premise is good, and the message is one that speaks profoundly to this generation in other media. M3GAN is very obviously trying to warn us about the dangers of technology, and how cell phones and social media apps can take over one’s life when they derive all comfort from them. When you boil it down, the main conflict of the film is whether Cady will choose the gilded, shimmering M3GAN whom we know is actually incredibly dangerous, or the flawed but real, loving family she has in Gemma. Unfortunately, it’s near impossible not to see the allegory here, because just like every other aspect of this movie, it’s thrown at you like this is your first time at the theater.

However, it would be dishonest not to mention that M3GAN has gotten excellent reviews, currently defending its 95% certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, so it’s totally plausible that there’s something for everybody hidden in M3GAN’s constantly alternating tone. And that being said, I might have walked out of M3GAN disappointed, but I was not dissatisfied. M3GAN can be a fun time under the right circumstances, and evidently its odd choices might just make it a modern classic. To those ends, I would recommend you go see M3GAN and form your own opinion. In the words of Sia, “nothing to lose, fire away, fire away.”