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MOVIE | Mildly creepy horror film delivers a stinging commentary about parenting and technology

Universal Studios

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➤ Rated PG-13
➤ Theaters
➤ S1 / V7 / L5*

M3GAN could be dismissed as just another horror movie about dolls, but it also offers a healthy dose of silliness with its scares while still delivering a stinging social rebuke.

Gemma (Allison Williams) works as a robotics engineer for the Funki toy company, but her career-­oriented life gets thrown into ­turmoil when she begins caring for her orphaned niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Gemma struggles to find a work-life balance, and Cady struggles with the loss of her parents. In order to free herself to work, Gemma builds an android companion named M3GAN (short for Model 3 Generative Android) to comfort and care for Cady.

Everyone’s life should be better now. Gemma can work, and Cady won’t be lonely, but the android’s artificial intelligence takes a dark turn. Gemma forgot to include ­fail-safes and parental controls in M3GAN’s programming, and M3GAN begins to interpret her prime function of caring for Cady rather loosely, leading to deadly consequences.

M3GAN dishes up typical horror fare—something supposedly sweet and innocent turns into a nightmare—but the movie, with its PG-13 rating, isn’t particularly ­horrific. There’s no supernatural ­element, just light science fiction. The android has an uncanny-valley demeanor, but she’s only mildly creepy. We get plenty of jump scares, but the blood and gore are kept to a minimum. The first half of the film contains little that’s frightening, instead relying on a building sense of wrongness.

The movie’s clever visuals nod to a variety of horror and action ­movies—most notably The Terminator—and director Gerard Johnstone mines these tropes without making the film feel derivative. Instead, these tributes to other films add a quirky, comical aspect.

Despite its silliness, M3GAN offers some insightful social commentary. The android acts as a ­metaphor for “screen time.” How many parents are guilty of quieting their children by handing them ­digital devices? In those moments, the goal isn’t the child’s well-being or the formation of character—the parents just want a break from incessant responsibilities. M3GAN becomes Cady’s babysitter, friend, and parent—freeing Gemma from the onus of doing all the little unfun things parents must.

The movie reminds us that an algorithm can’t love us and that bad parenting has consequences. Perhaps the most insightful moment comes when we see the confusion this situation has on Cady. Dependence on technology corrupts the child, who begins to love the deceitful android more than she loves her own family.

A film featuring a talking doll with an indestructible titanium skeleton isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but M3GAN is an old-school morality tale asking us if we’re the masters of our technology, or is it mastering us?

*Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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