Director – Gerard Johnstone, Screenplay – Akela Cooper, Story – Akela Cooper & James Wan, Producers – Jason Blum & James Wan, Photography – Peter McCaffrey, Music – Anthony Willis, Visual Effects – Fathom (Supervisors – Damon Duncan & Rhys Dippe), Fin Design & Effects (Supervisor – Jonathan Dearing & Chris Elson) & Masters of Reality, Special Effects Supervisor – Sven Harens, M3gan Makeup Effects – Adrien Morot & Kathy Tse, Animatronic Characters & Effects – Morot FX Studio Inc., Production Design – Kim Sinclair. Production Company – Blumhouse/Atomic Monster/Divide-Conquer.
Allison Williams (Gemma), Violet McGraw (Cady James), Amie Donald (M3gan), Jenna Davis (Voice of M3gan), Ronny Chieng (David Lin), Brian Jordan Alvarez (Cole), Jen Van Epps (Tess), Stephane Garneau-Monten (Kurt), Lori Dungey (Celia), Amy Usherwood (Lydia), Jack Cassidy (Brandon), Samson Chan-Boon (Officer Carter), Michael Saccente (Greg), Chelsea Preston Crayford (Nicole James), Arlo Green (David James)
In Seattle, Gemma runs a robotics R&D unit at the Funki toy company attempting to create the interactive Purrperfect Toy. Gemma has instead spent her time developing a lifelike android doll she calls M3gan (Model 3 Generative Android). However, her demonstration of M3gan to the boss David Lin is a failure and Gemma faces consequences. Gemma then receives news that her sister Nicole and her husband have been killed in a car accident, meaning that she is now guardian of their daughter Cady. Gemma finds it difficult trying to adjust to having responsibility for a child. She sets out to perfect the M3gan doll. Cady immediately bonds with M3gan and Gemma sees M3gan’s responsive learning adapt to become protective of and the perfect friend for Cady. She premieres M3gan and Cady to David, who immediately wants to package M3gan for commercial sale. However, Gemma begins to suspect that M3gan has dangerous potential and has killed the neighbour’s dog and then the neighbour and a bullying boy.
M3gan was a modest success, earning some $150 million worldwide. It was a production between the ubiquitous Blumhouse (see below for their other films) and produced/with the story devised by James Wan, director of Saw (2004), The Conjuring (2013) and the Blumhouse produced Insidious (2010) and sequel. The film was shot in New Zealand and was the second film for New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone who had previously made Housebound (2014). The script comes from Akela Cooper, a writer/producer on tv series like American Horror Story (2011- ), The 100 (2014-20), Grimm (2011-7), Luke Cage (2016-8) and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022- ), as well as the scripts for the films Hell Fest (2018) and James Wan’s Maligant (2021).
The film that M3gan most closely resembles is the recent remake of Child’s Play (2019), which revamped the original concept of a possessed doll to make Chucky into an interactive child’s toy with its safety protocols switched off. At a stretch you could perhaps look upon this as a horror version of the early sections of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) (2001) with Haley Joel Osment reacting with the family but being regarded as odd because of his unnatural lifelikeness.
I found M3gan to be strictly average as both a film about artificial intelligence and a horror movie. The huge bonus the film has is the performance from young Amie Donald, aided by an army of animatronics and makeup people that turn her into the living equivalent of one of Margaret Keane’s Big Eyes paintings. There is quite an eerie sense of Uncanny Valley as you watch her exhibit expressions, bonding with Violet McGraw and invariably turning malevolent.
On the other hand, James Wan and Gerard Johnstone seem more interested in playing M3gan as a horror film than in making a film about Artificial Intelligence – James Wan has also produced the Annabelle films so it is no big surprise. There are a few debates raised about whether it is a good thing that M3gan becomes a substitute for parents and friends but these mostly seem ones along the lines of people shaking their fists saying “today’s teenagers are spending too much time on their phone. Why, back in my day …”. To make its case, the film has to stack its deck ie. would such an argument still have validity if Violet McGraw was not a socially isolated orphan, had friends/siblings or was not being home-schooled?
On the other hand, Wan and Johnstone have little interest in delving into these themes beyond throwing out some platitudes about “we (or at least our children) are becoming too dependent on our toys.” The bulk of M3gan plays out as a horror film where Gerard Johnstone serves up some passable scenes with Amie Donald pursuing people and climactic scenes where she goes full-on Terminator. On the other hand, I feel like while these are okay, there have been enough Machines Amok films from The Terminator (1984) through Hardware (1990) and Death Machine (1995) and that this adds nothing new or remarkable to the equation.