As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, The Teenager and I went to see M3GAN late Thursday afternoon. That in itself became a delightful adventure and you can read about that here. We had a lot of fun, but The Teenager still hates horror movies. We had a brief stint as reviewers on Crash Palace Production’s horror blog, watching horror films as a mother-daughter team. (Here ares our reviews of Little Shop of Horrors, Nosferatu, and others.) I had listened to an episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast on the film, where reviewers discussed its similarities and differences from the Child’s Play franchise and the changing ethics of robotics now that we have reached the age of AI.
As soon as I saw the trailer, I couldn’t help but make a comparison to VICI (pronounced Vicky, “Voice Input Child Identicant”) of Small Wonder, a sitcom that aired from 1985 to 1989. Now, VICI and M3GAN are both androids made to appear as girls about ten years old but man does M3GAN look like a badass compared to girl next door VICI.
If you never saw or don’t remember Small Wonder, it’s available on YouTube.
But forget the innocent, eager-to-please robot of the 1980s. M3GAN wears dark eye makeup and takes her role as the friend and protector of Katie– the child she’s paired with– very literally. I mean, she’s a robot so I guess that’s to be expected.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. One can liken a good robot story to a good vampire story, but from different sides of the human condition. I always considered any anthropomorphic, humanoid monster a way to explore the darkness of our souls. The monster does what many of us would like to do: give in to our urges, be violent, be sexual, be indulgent, and selfish. A good robot story examines what it means to be human and what happens when technology fails because they lack what makes us human: emotions, the ability to age, the capacity to see beyond black and white.
The reviewers at Pop Culture Happy Hour portrayed the film as homage to 1980s horror, and spoke about it with an enthusiasm that sounded more fun that just discussing its merits as a movie. And one reviewer said something that, especially when combined with the concept of what happens when AI goes rogue? piqued my interest; she said that everything the robot did was justified when you consider the basic command it was given.
I asked my friend, Bill Prystauk, founder of the horror website I referred to earlier (Crash Palace Productions), if he wanted to join me. He said apologetically that his schedule was tight and that he wasn’t sure he would enjoy the horror comedy.
I stared at my phone. Horror Comedy?
Did I happen to mention that I am very out of mainstream pop culture? I specifically listen to podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour and Why are People Watching This so that I might have a clue.
But I don’t.
But I did want to see this movie.
So what did I think?
The movie began with a satire of a Furby commercial. Which in itself was confusing in the best way. It was a not-so-subtle reference to the company where Aunt Gemma worked. And the toy Aunt Gemma had bought Cady for her birthday. And then we witness a car accident. And (MILD SPOILER– you might be under a rock if this is a spoiler) this is how Cady comes to live with Gemma.
And Gemma builds robotic toys. As a new guardian, Gemma has to struggle with work/life balance and her own inability to be emotionally available. When she gets the opportunity to use Cady to beta test what Gemma believes will be a best friend and babysitter, she takes advantage. The clincher is when Cady remarks that if she had a doll like M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android) she would never need another toy. And the social worker had said that Gemma had to get Cady some toys.
Except for Gemma and Cady, many of the characters are two-dimensional in the satirical way. The ridiculousness of these people is what gives this movie its humor: the ill-mannered tech CEO, the overlooked assistant, the bully at school, the annoying and inconsiderate neighbor, the “granola” mom. The humor is far from complex, but certainly at a higher level than let’s say middle school boy.
The creepy factor is 100%. From how M3GAN baits her victims to how she does what does. I shiver a bit even now. Let’s just say M3GAN doesn’t need traditional weapons.
The CGI can be a tad over the top.
But the ending… is perfect. The final battle shows that Cady was paying attention all along and is way smarter than anyone gave her credit for.
I felt like I was strapped into a roller coaster. Maybe an old wooden coaster trying to compete with modern steel. The way the film moved from campy humor to dark horror in seconds was a jarring transition, and overall the film felt super rushed. As a viewer, it felt like the entire movie spanned only two weeks. And I’d like to believe that if M3GAN is going to outgrow her original programming, it would have required more time. And this is amazing because in the first scenes of the movie, M3GAN’s head blew off in an accident with the construction of her face. She goes from melted to demonic in no time flat.
In totality, the movie was fun and as said earlier extremely creepy and if you take the time to think about all the topics they are tackling– from the dangers of AI to parenting with technology, there’s a lot going on. And in many ways, M3GAN finds her reasons to act on all the things we would really like to do: deal with the jerk at the office, the annoying dog, the obnoxious neighbor and the school bully. But the movie is also a satirical romp through all the horror tropes, which I did not expect, but I suppose I did enjoy.
In closing, let me offer you this review from Critical Drinker.