M3GAN is a new horror movie about a killer AI doll, which is now one of the more cliche storylines. Directed by Gerard Johnstone and starring Allison Williams, M3GAN follows a young girl (Violet McGraw) whose parents are killed in a tragic car accident, and when she goes to live with her aunt, an engineer at a toy manufacturer, she befriends a AI prototype that is instructed to protect the young girl at all costs.
The serious parts of this film play with an old thought experiment in AI philosophy and research: let’s say that you instruct an AI to make paperclips, a fairly benign mission. Taken to the most extreme, the AI may decide that it needs all the iron in the world to make paperclips, including the iron in all the humans’ blood. The same tragedy of unintended consequences occupies much of the self-serious sections of M3GAN.
What many people are enjoying about M3GAN are its campy and silly elements. The character design and M3GAN’s dance down the hallway, which has become ubiquitous on social media, feel like bad-but-funny horror. James Wan, one of M3GAN’s producers, is also behind Malignant, another film that camped up the horror genre, and if you enjoyed films like that, there is about 40% of M3GAN’s runtime that will also entertain you. I found those funny and entertainingly ridiculous parts to be thin and few and far between.
So much of the movie is trying to take seriously this killer AI concept that M3GAN never committed to what it wanted to be. Is it ridiculous killer doll camp, or is it a PG-13 Ex Machina with kids? And the mix of those two ideas doesn’t work.
Somewhat more disturbingly, M3GAN seems like a film that is created for the memes. The dance sequence down the hallway and M3GAN removing her sunglasses are not set up, and there are no plot-based reasons for this behavior, but the images work great as memes. This may be where movie marketing goes in the 21st century, and it is clever advertising. But it doesn’t make for a cohesive story.
Serious horror like last year’s Barbarian scare, and campy horrors like The Cabin in the Woods entertain, but M3GAN is somehow the wrong mix of the two genres: too serious-minded to intrigue or enjoy and too campy to take seriously.