Culture Pick: M3GAN is bonkers, but that might not be a good thing 

Luke McClinton, Contributing Writer

In terms of pure critical reception, “M3GAN” is an anomaly among January horror releases, which some believe are not the best movies on the market. Sitting with a surprising 94% on the Rotten Tomatoes Critics’ Scale, a 72 on Metacritic and a 6.5/10 on IMDb, it is seeing success unlike other first-month Hollywood movies of the genre have in recent memory. Gerard Johnstone’s second feature and first in the mainstream is rolling. 

The film follows Violet McGraw’s Cady, a young girl recently made an orphan by a tragic car accident, and Gemma, played by Allison Williams, is Cady’s aunt who takes her in. Gemma is a tech developer for the massive fictitious toy company Funki, and her role commands long hours and rigorous, dedicated work. As such, the home dynamic with the bashful and still-grieving Cady is more than a bit strained. It gets to a point where a child therapist, needing to make custody recommendations to the court, tells Gemma that her keeping of Cady rests upon her ability to change. 

Using her undeniable talent, Gemma stumbles upon what might be the perfect solution. To remedy this complicated human relationship, she creates a lifelike electronic doll using long-worked-on, yet still quite unrefined, artificial intelligence technology. The doll is named M3GAN, and her uncanny ability to read, empathize with emotions and conjure up seemingly perfect responses awes fellow tech designers and corporate CEOs.  More importantly, she strikes a particular chord with Cady. 

The relationship between the traumatized youngling and her new benevolent best friend blossoms, and all seems well. On top of the tranquility on the home front, Gemma is heaped with outside interest in M3GAN and her intellect is praised. 

However, issues soon arise. The neighbor’s dog vanishes the day after biting Cady in the heat of an altercation. A bully at a local day camp Cady attends is hit by a car after apparently, inexplicably, falling down a hill and his detached earlobe is found nearby. Cady becomes so hyper-dependent on M3GAN that she can hardly function properly without the doll by her side. Things seem … off. The viewer is left asking, “What’s really afoot?” 

Right off the bat, let’s all get on the same page: this film is ridiculous. All the tomfoolery, oddity and outright silliness of the trailers are fully intact once it gets rolling, and it very rarely tries to detach from such tones. The real critical exercise lies in determining whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. 

It’s hard to deny that the last third of “M3GAN” is joyously over-the-top, ballistic in all the right ways. M3GAN dances. She kills without much rhyme or reason, and it’s somewhat satisfying despite the PG-13 restrictions. She sings. She doesn’t try to wax philosophical to mask some generic, all-humans-must-die philosophy; rather, she more or less says, “You didn’t take the time to fully develop my technology, and you’re surprised I turned out to be a psychotic murderer?” She even, in what might be the best part of the movie, chases the aforementioned bully on all fours in simultaneously hilarious and disconcerting fashion. 

For all these idiosyncrasies, there are still elements that are flat-out bad. The first thirty minutes feel as if they were written by an eleven-year-old whose knowledge of the machinations of the real world is woefully limited. Gemma, though she develops, is an unrealistically deplorable character for large stretches, and the film overall lacks a cohesiveness to bind together all its irreverence. It’s fun, but it’s the kind of fun that comes with eating a candy bar. It tastes good, but one can’t help but wonder about the nutritional (in our case, cinematic) value contained therein. 

Sarah Ward of Concrete Playground seems to be along this same wavelength, writing, “It’s winking, knowing, witty, satirical, slick, and highly engineered all at once, overtly pushing buttons and demanding a response – and, thankfully, mostly earning it.” 

M3GAN was released on Jan. 6 and is still in its theatrical run, but it can also be rented on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.