There is a cheeky commercial that opens Gerard Johnstone’s M3GAN that features a Furby-style toys called Purrpetual Petz. Like many of today’s products geared towards children, the toys come with an app-based component that allows a child to make videos, converse with, and control their furry pet. Of course, despite the plastic creature’s multiple functions, in actuality kids like Cady (Violet McGraw) only seems to care about the flatulence feature.
As any parent can attest, it does not matter how flashy or expensive the toy is, chances are good the child will only want to play with the box.
The unholy union between society’s addiction to technology and the ways kids get hooked from an early age is one of several themes within Johnstone’s campy horror. Although primarily being a film about a killer toy, M3GAN gleeful takes jabs at how freely we have given ourselves over to the machines. We let devices like Alexa have access to our daily calendars, the lights in our home, and even our Tinder profiles without thinking of the potential ramifications of this blind trust.
For roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams), who works at the Funki toy company, the makers of Purrpetual Petz, technology is simply a way of life. Making robots from young, she is more interested in pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence rather than questioning if she should. Pressured to come up with a new version of the company’s best-selling toy, her life and career takes an unexpected turn when she becomes the guardian of her orphaned niece Cady.
Losing her parents in a tragic car accident while heading on a family ski trip, Cady finds it difficult to adapt to her new surroundings. Gemma may make toys for a living; however, her home life is that of a tech obsessed single woman who knows nothing about raising kids. Realizing that Cady needs someone to play with, Gemma gets the idea to make M3GAN (played by Amie Donald, and voiced by Jenna Davis), short for Model 3 Generative Android, a prototype designed to be the perfect companion. A fast-learning AI infuse toy, M3GAN can detect various emotions, such as when a child is feeling anxious, and adapt to any situation. The latter of which being the fatal flaw in the design.
Proving to be a revolutionary invention, one that even wins over her initially reluctant boss (Ronny Chieng), Gemma finds herself spending even more of her time working on getting the protype ready for its global launch. Part of this means allowing M3GAN and Cady bond as much as possible. Where Cady had strict rules around screen time with her mom, her limitless time with M3GAN leads to several revelations that Gemma did not foresee. Not only does the girl get overly attached to the toy, but the toy begins to develop a mind of its own, one that takes its role as friend and protector dead seriously.
As Gemma slowly begins to see the error of her ways, and the body count starts to rise, Johnstone’s film reveals itself to be far more self-aware and wildly entertaining than one would initially expect. Rather than simply being a modern-day Child’s Play knock off, M3GAN carves its own unique space in the horror genre. One that is filled with a surprisingly large amount of humour.
M3GAN not only features some great comedic beats, including a few hilarious musical references, but use levity to ease the uncomfortable tension in certain moments. One minute you are cringing at the creepy advances of a bully at a new age camp and the next laughing at M3GAN’s pain inducing lecture on toxic masculinity.
While M3GAN has plenty of humour injected in its veins Johnstone still manages to make a great horror monster worthy of standing beside the likes of Chucky. The character design and facial gesture of M3GAN are effective in lulling one into her charms, while still being fearful of what she is capable of. A simple side-eye glance or head turn from her feels like an unspoken kiss of death.
This playful mix of humour and horror allows Johnstone to convey several sharp statements about our obsession with technology. The film is fully aware that society is raising a generation of children through devices without teaching them the emotional literacy that can only come from human interactions. There is also dangerous ramification for adults as well. As M3GAN becomes smarter, the film frequently reminds audiences of all the things (e.g., cars, phones, computers, etc.) that she now has control of.
In showing how vulnerable society is becoming, and the disconnect technology is causing within families, M3GAN raises several chilling questions that it has no desire to answer. The film understands its strength lies in creating an entertaining experience that works best when viewed in a theatre with a lively crowd. Fully embracing its blend of humour and horror M3GAN is a fun film worth putting down your devices for.