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M3GAN (2022)

M3GAN (2022) – Taking a walk in uncanny valley

3/5
Directed by Gerard Johnstone and written by Akela Cooper from an idea from James Wan, M3GAN is the next in line in a long history of doll based horror fiction. My first brush with this type of horror came from a Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll” that featured a sentient doll named talking Tina that inserts herself in the dysfunction of a modern American family. The results were absolutely terrifying. The idea that something loved by our children could be capable of spite and revenge challenges the idea that safety can always be found in the home.
Since the advent of Talking Tina (1963) and even Chucky (1988), technology has grown in leaps and bounds. As the technology becomes more commonplace, it shows up more and more in our daily lives. M3GAN serves as a warning that this technology may possess a terrifying dark side.
M3GAN (2022) - Allison Williams as Gemma, the brilliant roboticist
Allison Williams as Gemma, the brilliant roboticist

It begins with a tragedy

The story begins with a young girl named Cady. While on vacation to the mountains, Cady and her parents get in a horrific car accident that kills both of her parents. Cady is sent to live with her aunt Gemma, a roboticist working for a toy company named Funki. Secretly, Gemma has been developing an advanced humanoid doll. Using artificial intelligence, the doll promises to continually adapt its behavior to meet its primary directive: keep its owner from harm, both emotional and physical. Not remotely ready for parenthood, Gemma bonds M3GAN to Cady in an attempt to help her through her loss.

User Acceptance Testing

You know, in application development there is a joke: I don’t always test my code, but when I do, I do it in production. This prove apropos considering pressure from the CEO Funki forces Gemma to take her project to market much faster than she intended. Before Gemma fully understood what she had built, not did she understand the ambiguity of the primary directive she programmed into M3GAN. M3GAN becomes self-aware, and in a completely predictable set of circumstances, M3GAN’s rushed release turn out really bad for everyone involved. Don't always test code - Imgflip

Fun but familiar

Through the decades, we have seen this trope before. In Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, on-board computer HAL struggled with contradictory order to the point that it drove him mad. In Alien (1979), Ash goes mad the moment his secret prime directive is discovered. In Ex-Machina Ava plots her escape using deception as she elevates her own sentience to her primary objective. Sadly, M3GAN bring nothing new to that formula. In fact, the approach taken in other films feel more profound and certainly more artful. But, M3GAN is entertainment. In that the film succeeds. One key to the success of this film is that it takes its material seriously, but not too seriously. At one point an engineer exclaims, “I might have forgotten to put in the poky-propylene barrier” as a an explanation for a prototype’s failure. You sure it wasn’t the flux capacitor or maybe the fetzer valve. In one brief monolog, Gemma’s boss, David, explains that M3GAN is good for all kids, even the ones without dead parents. The subtle humor goes a long way to keep the viewer engaged. The film also extends a refreshing trend in horror; it manages to create a real sense of horror, but it plays well with the boundaries of PG-13. While not a prude, my sensibilities as a parent coupled with the fact that my kids love of horror movies, make a film like M3GAN a refreshing choice. If something is truly terrifying, it can be presented in a way that can be received by a larger audience. As the story goes, the production team originally targeted an R rating, but felt that it was close enough that they retooled some scenes to make the PG-13 cut.

Return to the uncanny valley

un·can·ny val·ley
noun
  1. used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.
M3GAN (2022) - Uncanny valley
Based on image by Masahiro Mori and Karl MacDorman at http://www.androidscience.com/theuncannyvalley/proceedings2005/uncannyvalley.html
As mentioned above, the uncanny valley describes the curve in which people perceive human like qualities and the precipitous drop-off that occurs as dolls and robots become more and more lifelike. Some theorize that this human condition explains why we are so uncomfortable in the presence of death, even when we are exercising our end of life customs. The team responsible for M3GANs really nailed this. Even in the scenes where she was being nice, her presentation was very unsettling. If any scene proves that the uncanny valley is a real place, M3GAN performs a pre-murder dance routine that might be one of the most unsettling visuals of robotic horror in the history of film. Uncanny valley indeed.

Well written, produced and well acted

While having discussed that M3GAN’s script fails to bring anything new to the table, it does so ever so with intentional pacing. Akela Cooper gets to the interesting bits of the story with no delay. Furthermore, she effortlessly juggles brief departures into comic relief as he deftly manages the more foreboding plotlines. As corny as it it sounds, and in a minor spoiler, the script brilliantly adds a cliché but totally appropriate battle of the bots. I was tempted to jeer, but I was smiling too wide.
M3GAN (2022) - Disheveled and staring into the uncanny valley
Disheveled and staring into the uncanny valley
I can’t really say enough about Allison Williams’ performance as Gemma. For starters, she comes off wicked smart as high-caliber roboticist should. Yet, she clearly cares about Cady, However, she simply can’t give her what she needs. She feels her responsibility towards her deceased sister, and her child, but she simply is not equipped to handle the situation at hand. Allison possesses a depth in her expression that says this as loudly as possible. The audience can see it, and therefore they feel it. Violet McGraw plays Cady. Cute as a button, she really reaches deep into her soul to display the pain and despair that she feels. In on specific scene, Cady breaks down as she expresses the hurt of losing her parents and how M3GAN has filled that void for her. It’s an extremely compelling performance. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Really good, but not great

I really enjoyed this movie, and I loved the fact that I could watch a good horror movie with my kids. Quite frankly, I did not feel the film needed to give up that much to make that happen. Gerrard Johnstone does a fantastic job with the material and overall the film feel polished, intentional and well choreographed. Still, I found myself wanting something more. From the look of of it, we have at least another decade of AI horror on the horizon. If that is going to work, horror fans will demand something more than just another robot that got confused by its directives.
 
Directed by Gerard Johnstone and written by Akela Cooper from an idea from James Wan, M3GAN is the next in line in a long history of doll based horror fiction. My first brush with this type of horror came from a Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll” that featured a sentient doll named talking Tina that inserts herself in the dysfunction of a modern American family. The results were absolutely terrifying. The idea that something loved by our children could be capable of spite and revenge challenges the idea that safety can always be found in the home.

Since the advent of Talking Tina (1963) and even Chucky (1988), technology has grown in leaps and bounds. As the technology becomes more commonplace, it shows up more and more in our daily lives. M3GAN serves as a warning that this technology may possess a terrifying dark side.

M3GAN (2022) - Allison Williams as Gemma, the brilliant roboticist
Allison Williams as Gemma, the brilliant roboticist

It begins with a tragedy

The story begins with a young girl named Cady. While on vacation to the mountains, Cady and her parents get in a horrific car accident that kills both of her parents. Cady is sent to live with her aunt Gemma, a roboticist working for a toy company named Funki. Secretly, Gemma has been developing an advanced humanoid doll. Using artificial intelligence, the doll promises to continually adapt its behavior to meet its primary directive: keep its owner from harm, both emotional and physical.

Not remotely ready for parenthood, Gemma bonds M3GAN to Cady in an attempt to help her through her loss.

User Acceptance Testing

You know, in application development there is a joke: I don’t always test my code, but when I do, I do it in production.

This prove apropos considering pressure from the CEO Funki forces Gemma to take her project to market much faster than she intended. Before Gemma fully understood what she had built, not did she understand the ambiguity of the primary directive she programmed into M3GAN. M3GAN becomes self-aware, and in a completely predictable set of circumstances, M3GAN’s rushed release turn out really bad for everyone involved.

Don't always test code - Imgflip

Fun but familiar

Through the decades, we have seen this trope before. In Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, on-board computer HAL struggled with contradictory order to the point that it drove him mad. In Alien (1979), Ash goes mad the moment his secret prime directive is discovered. In Ex-Machina Ava plots her escape using deception as she elevates her own sentience to her primary objective. Sadly, M3GAN bring nothing new to that formula. In fact, the approach taken in other films feel more profound and certainly more artful. But, M3GAN is entertainment. In that the film succeeds.

One key to the success of this film is that it takes its material seriously, but not too seriously. At one point an engineer exclaims, “I might have forgotten to put in the poky-propylene barrier” as a an explanation for a prototype’s failure. You sure it wasn’t the flux capacitor or maybe the fetzer valve. In one brief monolog, Gemma’s boss, David, explains that M3GAN is good for all kids, even the ones without dead parents. The subtle humor goes a long way to keep the viewer engaged.

The film also extends a refreshing trend in horror; it manages to create a real sense of horror, but it plays well with the boundaries of PG-13. While not a prude, my sensibilities as a parent coupled with the fact that my kids love of horror movies, make a film like M3GAN a refreshing choice. If something is truly terrifying, it can be presented in a way that can be received by a larger audience. As the story goes, the production team originally targeted an R rating, but felt that it was close enough that they retooled some scenes to make the PG-13 cut.

Return to the uncanny valley

un·can·ny val·ley
 
noun
  1. used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.
M3GAN (2022) - Uncanny valley
Based on image by Masahiro Mori and Karl MacDorman at http://www.androidscience.com/theuncannyvalley/proceedings2005/uncannyvalley.html

As mentioned above, the uncanny valley describes the curve in which people perceive human like qualities and the precipitous drop-off that occurs as dolls and robots become more and more lifelike. Some theorize that this human condition explains why we are so uncomfortable in the presence of death, even when we are exercising our end of life customs.

The team responsible for M3GANs really nailed this. Even in the scenes where she was being nice, her presentation was very unsettling. If any scene proves that the uncanny valley is a real place, M3GAN performs a pre-murder dance routine that might be one of the most unsettling visuals of robotic horror in the history of film. Uncanny valley indeed.

Well written, produced and well acted

While having discussed that M3GAN’s script fails to bring anything new to the table, it does so ever so with intentional pacing. Akela Cooper gets to the interesting bits of the story with no delay. Furthermore, she effortlessly juggles brief departures into comic relief as he deftly manages the more foreboding plotlines. As corny as it it sounds, and in a minor spoiler, the script brilliantly adds a cliché but totally appropriate battle of the bots. I was tempted to jeer, but I was smiling too wide.

M3GAN (2022) - Disheveled and staring into the uncanny valley
Disheveled and staring into the uncanny valley

I can’t really say enough about Allison Williams’ performance as Gemma. For starters, she comes off wicked smart as high-caliber roboticist should. Yet, she clearly cares about Cady, However, she simply can’t give her what she needs. She feels her responsibility towards her deceased sister, and her child, but she simply is not equipped to handle the situation at hand. Allison possesses a depth in her expression that says this as loudly as possible. The audience can see it, and therefore they feel it.

Violet McGraw plays Cady. Cute as a button, she really reaches deep into her soul to display the pain and despair that she feels. In on specific scene, Cady breaks down as she expresses the hurt of losing her parents and how M3GAN has filled that void for her. It’s an extremely compelling performance. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Really good, but not great

I really enjoyed this movie, and I loved the fact that I could watch a good horror movie with my kids. Quite frankly, I did not feel the film needed to give up that much to make that happen. Gerrard Johnstone does a fantastic job with the material and overall the film feel polished, intentional and well choreographed. Still, I found myself wanting something more. From the look of of it, we have at least another decade of AI horror on the horizon. If that is going to work, horror fans will demand something more than just another robot that got confused by its directives.

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