Violet McGraw and Allison Williams in M3GAN (2023)

‘M3GAN’ movie review: Ex Machina meets Child’s Play in nifty AI horror flick

NOW STREAMING ON:

A lifelike children’s doll powered by cutting-edge artificial intelligence goes on predictable killing spree in M3GAN, which opened to unusually strong reviews in the states last weekend and debuts in Prague cinemas Thursday.

But while M3GAN takes a turn towards familiar Child’s Play territory in its final act, it’s much more Ex Machina during its first two-thirds. For a Blumhouse horror movie releasing in January, this is an unexpectedly intelligent, sharp-witted, and even emotionally resonant feature that draws you deep into the world of its characters before delivering the more conventional thrills.

Kudos to writers James Wan (The Conjuring franchise) and Akela Cooper (Malignant), and director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) for pulling it off: the formulaic nature of M3GAN’s conception keeps it from achieving any kind of greatness, but this is otherwise a first-rate piece of genre filmmaking.

M3GAN stars GirlsAllison Williams as Gemma, an innovative toy developer stuck making demented Furby-like toys called Perpetual Pets for demanding boss David (Ronny Chieng). But her real passion is for building the Model 3 Generative Android – M3GAN, for short – a lifelike doll that bonds with its owners using cutting-edge AI technology… and comes with a $10,000 price tag.

But Gemma’s robotics life is upended when her sister and brother-in-law die in a tragic car accident, leaving her in custody with niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Gemma doesn’t know the first thing about parenting, or comforting Cady following the death of her parents. But she just happens to be working on a powerful piece of technology that can help out on both fronts.

M3GAN is at its very best when developing the very real relationship between Cady and her new android friend. Unlike something like Ex Machina, the bulk of the film isn’t so interested in the boundaries between AI and humanity as it is in how we use artificial technology as a kind of emotional support, and how it helps us grow and develop as people.

In M3GAN’s most memorable scene, set during a corporate presentation, the android helps comfort a crying Cady by engaging in a conversation about her mother, and storing a memory for the grieving child. There isn’t a dry eye among the corporate CEOs — and despite this being a Blumhouse horror movie, there may not be in the audience, either.

Of course, M3GAN is a Blumhouse horror movie, and takes a sharp turn when the doll suddenly goes bad. You’d think this powerful piece of AI that can pair with Alexa-like devices and control Tesla cars would come up with a better schtick than yanking the blade off a paper guillotine and swinging it around like a machete as she cartwheels down hallways in pursuit of unsuspecting victims… but you’d be wrong.

While M3GAN becomes a lot less interesting once the narrative turns the predictable, however, it doesn’t overstay its welcome: the finale plays out fast and short, and once the primary conflict has been resolved the credits start to roll. The movie even cannily sneaks in a sequel setup midway through so it doesn’t have to pad things out at the end.

M3GAN is a genuine surprise: an unexpectedly intelligent and sharply-written modern technology satire disguised as a killer doll horror movie. While the presentation keeps it from achieving true greatness, you really can’t ask for more from a January Blumhouse release.

M3GAN

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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