In another scene, M3GAN reminds Cady to flush the toilet! (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

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

Director: Gerard Johnstone

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Horrifying Demises That Cut Away Before the Goriest Parts

Release Date: January 6, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes the guardian to her young niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after her sister and brother-in-law die in a violent accident. But at the same time, she’s facing a deadline for a major project that could make or break her entire career. Isn’t that just how it always  goes?! 😛 But as it turns out, maybe she can take care of everything in one fell swoop by completing her passion project: the Model 3 Generative Android, aka “M3GAN” (Amie Donald, with Jenna Davis providing the voice). She’s a lifelike talking doll with a titanium foundation and artificial intelligence-fueled learning abilities. She imprints onto Cady and thereby becomes a best friend, surrogate parent, and sworn protector. Initially, she proves to be a wonderfully therapeutic tool for a grieving child, but when it becomes clear that M3GAN’s interpretation of her duties has no ethical bounds, well, then, you’d better watch out.

What Made an Impression?: M3GAN delivers a whirlwind of emotions. It kicks off with a commercial for a line of Furby-esque talking animal toys called Purrpetual Pets that feels like it was plucked from the Cinco company of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Which is to say, it was designed for the most demented consumer market imaginable. But the entirety of the movie doesn’t operate on quite that same bizarro logic. At least not entirely. To clarify: just about every scene features a thrilling tonal mix. I constantly found myself switching between cracking up, choking up, and tightening up for fight-or-flight mode within the span of just one minute.

Take, for example, the scene in which Gemma and her colleagues make the big pitch about M3GAN’s capabilities to the company bigwigs. The presentation immediately goes off the rails when Cady, who’s too upset to stick to the script, breaks down after she’s suddenly hit by the grief of losing her parents that she’s yet to fully process. Everyone steels themselves for a disaster, but M3GAN is a master improviser, so she coaxes a supremely silly story out of Cady about a time that her mom found a cockroach in her school bag. This goofy bonding proves to be exactly what Cady needed in the moment to work through her trauma, and then M3GAN caps it all off with a stunning singing performance, and everyone in the room is blown away by the revolution they’ve just witnessed.

Of course, this being a horror movie and all, M3GAN’s methods for looking after Cady quickly turn much more sinister. And while the scares are effective, they arrive in a much different fashion than you might expect. MEGAN‘s most obvious antecedents are creepy doll franchises like Child’s Play and Annabelle that stare deep into the bowels of the uncanny valley. But M3GAN is more concerned with the unchecked power of artificial intelligence and robotic technology. Essentially, this is The Terminator updated for an era grappling with AI voice assistants that know everything about us, AI portraits that rival the work of human painters, and AI chatbots that can write sophisticated newspaper articles. Every generation activates Skynet in its own particular way, and we are so lucky that the warning postulated by M3GAN allows us to experience the full spectrum of what it means to be alive and human.

MEGAN is Recommended If You Like: The Terminator, AI-generated art, The “Aerodynamics of Gender” episode of Community, The Wikibear sketches from Conan

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Roasted Chestnuts