“M3GAN”: campy horror sends thrilling messages

M3GAN movie promotional poster outside the recently closed Solon AMC theater

M3GAN movie promotional poster outside the recently closed Solon AMC theater

Hannah Levenson, Editor-in-Chief

Warning this article will contain information about gore and violence, read at your own discretion.

Gerard Johnstone’s “M3GAN” is one of the first horror films to come out in 2023. The movie follows Gemma (Allison Williams), a roboticist at a high-technological toy company who has to take in her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), following the death of Cady’s parents. In order to help Cady cope with the loss of her parents, Gemma creates an Artificial Intelligence (AI) doll named M3GAN (short for Model Three Generative Android) [voiced by Jenna Davis and physically portrayed by Amie Donald] to be a companion for Cady. Unfortunately for Jemma and her coworkers, they gravely underestimate M3GAN’s capabilities.

Donald is newer to the acting scene, but viewers may recognize Davis’ voice from the internet meme Penny Nickel Dime. With the combination of Davis’ voice, Donald’s physique and special effects, M3GAN is cutely terrifying. M3GAN’s clothes are French-esque that emanate classy sophistication, symbolizing M3GAN’s status as an expensive doll. M3GAN’s CGI overly-large eyes are freakish, leaving feelings of discomfort and uneasiness. Several characters throughout the film have adverse reactions to seeing M3GAN for the first time. While they are amazed by her advanced capabilities, they are freaked out by her humanoid appearance combined with the fact that her capabilities are far beyond those of a child’s mind.

The trailer for M3GAN was too detailed and yet at the same time, misleading. What you see in the trailer is what you get in the movie, which took away from the element of surprise and left the plot predictable. For example, all the kills M3GAN makes in the movie are shown in the trailers. From all of the movie trailers, one can basically piece together the entire plot of the movie, leaving little wiggle room for twists and surprises, which is a crucial element for horror films.

I do not believe that the trailer lived up to the level of gore and violence one would expect from this movie. Perhaps this could be due to the fact that “M3GAN” was originally going to be rated R. However, the production crew had to reshoot and cut scenes from the film in order to get approval from the Motion Picture Association, who gave “M3GAN” a PG-13 rating. There were moments left to be desired that could be filled in the sequel set to release in 2025. Johnstone expressed that the lesser level of violence could still be just as scary as long as the right tone and atmosphere is expressed. Johnstone even stated, “That is so much worse than what we had before,” in regards to the sounds of the movie becoming more terrifying.

M3GAN also represents an increase in the horror film trope of ‘cute but deadly’ young girls. In my opinion, M3GAN deeply reminded me of Ester from the 2009 psychological horror film, “Orphan.” There were striking similarities between the two characters such as the cute, fanciful, yet outdated outfits they wear. Both girls also have a physical feature–like M3GAN’s eyes and Ester’s scars– that leaves a feeling of discomfort. This is even further demonstrated by Johnstone’s frequent usage of extreme close ups on M3GAN’s face and eyes instills a deeper sense of discomposure in the viewers.

However, at other points of M3GAN, the feeling of discomfort is diminished. Scenes intended to be eerie or creepy instead came off as comedic due to their awkward placement. For example, M3GAN and Cady are in Cady’s bedroom, the lighting is dark, and both girls have solemn expressions. Seemingly out of nowhere, M3GAN begins singing a cover of “Titanium” to Cady, and while the song itself could be fitting for the movie considering that M3GAN is made out of titanium, the awkward placement of the song made me laugh in the theater for a good five minutes. However, this could be due to the fact that M3GAN combines campy horror elements (think of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) and black comedy with satire (think of “Parasite”).

The feeling of discomfort is not completely lost, overall “M3GAN”’s messages on the dangers of future technology were exceptional and haunting. Technology that hasn’t been fully developed can be dangerous, and the effects are often unknown. As we see in the film, Gemma allows Cady, who is in a vulnerable state due to her parents’ deaths, to bond with an unfinished doll with human-like capabilities, which leaves Cady with mental and psychological harm.

The second message I found particularly interesting: we have to be careful to not replace parents, childhood friends and experiences with technology. Cady needs a new parent figure in her life to love and care for her, yet Gemma allows M3GAN to take on these responsibilities. As a result of the attachment theory, Cady becomes extremely bonded to M3GAN to the point where if Gemma has a difference with M3GAN, Cady becomes upset or angry with Gemma. Cady never experiences any new social connections because she solely relies on M3GAN, who gives her everything she needs and wants.

Overall, this is a movie I would recommend to a wide-ranging audience– fans of comedy, thriller, horror or dystopian would enjoy the film. It is also a great film if you want to ease into the horror genre, or if you still want to be able to sleep at night after watching the film.