There is an unmistakable campy tone to ‘M3GAN’ that I didn’t pick up from the trailer and I should have. It made the experience quite jolting (which is a good thing) that even if the film does go by-the-numbers in terms of the progression of the story, there was a thrill about seeing how the film wasn’t afraid to be silly or weird. It’s very aware of its genre and is not afraid to play around (such as two musical interludes that come out of nowhere, which got me laughing so loud but it sort of made all the sense in this film). I was expecting a straight-up slasher film and instead, I was experiencing a polished, refined satire that was equally as funny as it was scary.
But what made the film scary, more than the idea of an artificially intelligent robot companion for children going homicidal is the fact that the film manages to really present the dilemma of the youth’s attachment to technology on how they deal with their issues and trauma. The film is about Gemma, a roboticist who is working on AI toys, whose sister dies in a car accident leaving her niece to live with her. Unprepared to raise a child, she uses technology as a means to connect and introduces her niece Cady to M3GAN, an android that is built to learn from their user to become the perfect companion.
While it is in the complexities of AI technology plus the company’s rush to produce a working prototype to sell to the market that pushes M3GAN into her killing spree, the film illustrates so cleverly the way by which Cady prefers to connect with the machine rather than another human being. Yes, there’s something creepy about the way M3GAN resembles a human but doesn’t and how dangerous it is due to its robotic features but the real scare that is found in this film is the way with which Cady retreats into her relationship with the android and opts for distraction rather than the confrontation of her true feelings.
This is something that I’m witnessing now among a younger generation that is more keen on connecting online through social media than on face-to-face interactions. While the film is set in a futuristic time (robots and AI technology seem to be easily acquired), the way with which it harkens to present-day issues is so apparent that it is what actually sent a chill down my spine.
And while we are at it, the whole discussion on AI art online is reflected as well in this film. How quickly the corporations are ready to jump into AI technology because of the profits that it can bring them, how much they’ll push to sell M3GAN before any proper testing has been done is a plot point in the film but it mirrors the way we continue to embrace AI technology today without regards to films like ‘Terminator’ and ‘A.I.’ that discusses the dangers of this since as far back as the history of the genre of science fiction. The movie, though not new in discussing the dangers of AI, is still relevant because it seems no one is listening.
And so ‘M3GAN’ as a film is both scary and funny at the same time. It is scary because director Gerard Johnstone and screenwriter Akela Cooper (from a story by Akela Cooper and James Wan) are both aware of the themes that push against present-day issues but also because it’s scary when a robot goes on a murdering spree. It’s technology-based and much stronger, faster, and processes information faster than a human being. But it is also funny because it’s not afraid to be silly (again, there are two musical numbers that is a highlight for me and was so unexpected) but it is also making fun of us, for how dependent we’ve become to technology: in the way that we use it to help us through our day-to-day lives to the way we use it to distract ourselves from ourselves and our humanity.
I would have wanted it to be sillier. I would have wanted to care more about Cady and Gemma or the other characters in the film but as it is, it’s an enjoyable film that’s great for the thrills and the laughs. The CGI and effects are brilliant and while it does have a few jump scares, the film relies more on the imagery of M3GAN as its focal point of fear. We laugh or dismiss it as something fictional now but this is where we are going. At some point, ‘M3GAN’ won’t be a fictional story. And that’s scary.
M3GAN is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here.