A robotics engineer at a toy company builds a life-like doll that begins to take on a life of its own.

Editing: Jeff McEvoy
Anthony Willis

Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Stephane Garneau-Monten

Directors: Gerard Johnstone
Writers: Akela Cooper (story & screenplay by), James Wan (story by)
Cinematography: Peter McCaffrey, Simon Raby

Chucky was the creepy doll that went around killing everyone with a knife because he wanted to, and then came Annabelle, which was a spirit trapped in a doll. Well, here’s M3GAN, which is between the two and a Terminator. It’s an AI built to become attached to the child it pairs with, loves, cares for, and protects them. But like all good sci-fi films, when people begin playing with AI, they don’t fully understand, of course, M3GAN takes the idea of “protection” to another level. 

From director Gerard Johnstone and written by Akela Cooper and James Wan, the duo who wrote Wan’s wild film Malignant in 2021, M3GAN embraces a similar “what the hell am I watching?” energy. It’s not a particularly scary film, as most of the legit scares are packed into the last twenty minutes, but it’s constantly an unnerving film. There’s a difference to M3GAN releasing in 2023, when the idea of an AI doll like M3GAN doesn’t seem too ridiculous to imagine, compared to ten years ago when the tech may have seen just beyond our grasp. But this is where M3GAN works best — playing in the shadows of ‘this could happen’ and ‘would you buy your kid this?’ 

Allison Williams plays Gemma, an innovative engineer who’s been working on M3GAN for some time but has been dealing with her boss’s non-commit to such an expensive endeavour. The boss, played by Ronny Chieng clearing, enjoys the role of being able to yell at everyone anytime he’s on-screen. 

M3GAN will cost hundreds of thousands to build, $10,000 a pop for the families wanting to buy their kids one at launch. This does make you wonder how successful a $10k doll would be, especially if this thing were released in 2023, coming off a pandemic. But I digress. Gemma works on M3GAN anyway, of course, and she gets it working. Her sister and partner just passed away in a car accident, and she’s been left with her niece, Cady, who’s in need of some love, and attention that Gemma isn’t providing, so insert the first model of M3GAN. It’s a win-win for Gemma as she can help her niece get approval for M3GAN and also have a way to test the unit. 

Everything is fantastic at first, but it’s not long before the neighbour’s dog, who had bit Cady in an incident, goes missing, and the bully at a potential school is found in front of a car. M3GAN doesn’t see anything wrong with what she’s doing — she’s protecting Cady; that’s her job. 

There’s an interesting centrepiece to this film that M3GAN wears openly. A discussion on technology, especially in children’s hands and how we already use it to replace ourselves in children’s lives. How often do you see a kid’s eyes glued to an iPad while out shopping? Or glued to them at dinner? The movie opens with “screen time” being discussed by Cady and her parents before the accident, and as Cady spends more time with M3GAN, she only becomes more attached to her and unable to live without M3GAN at her side. But is M3GAN a real person that Cady should be missing? Or just a doll and a thing like a Nintendo Switch or iPad that shouldn’t be allowed to be played with at the dinner table? As a psychiatrist bluntly points out in the film, this is a girl who just lost her parents, she’s going to gravitate to the next adult in her life and look for someone to bond with, but instead, it’s been M3GAN. 

As the final act of M3GAN plays out, I couldn’t help but wish for a little bit more blood as the violence is tamed down for the PG-13 American rating. And overall, the film isn’t one I’d call scary. But it is a fun time in the cinema. M3GAN, however, would have been a much more interesting film if it committed to being either funnier or having something to say about tech in our lives, especially our children’s. But it’s a film that wants the best of both worlds and feels of balance for it.