‘M3GAN’ is a Surprisingly Harrowing Hit


Universal Pictures

Peter Philpott, Assistant News Editor

WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers for M3GAN

Look a little into the future, at a time when toy companies are capable of creating electronic playpal dolls for small children that can talk and can be interacted with. Maybe one of those companion prototypes was so technologically advanced that it had the capacity to think on its own.

Now imagine the doll acquired a thirst for blood.

M3GAN is a realistic/science fiction horror movie released on Jan. 6. To me, the trailer made it look like it was going to be a hilariously bad attempt at a creepy doll movie. Naturally, I had to watch it. It ended up being the exact opposite of the half-baked, poorly scripted disaster I expected. 

A young girl named Katie (Violet McGraw) lost both her parents in a gruesome snow plow crash, so she went to stay with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a skilled mechanic. Gemma works at a toy company, and she is the designer and brilliant mind behind the M3GAN project. M3GAN (Amie Donald, Jenna Davis) is a high-tech robotic doll created to act in the position of sibling, teacher, and friend. She has the capability to speak, think, and learn on her own.

One of the best aspects of M3GAN was the lighting. During some of the more suspenseful scenes, M3GAN’s half-lit face boosted the setting’s creepiness tenfold. Night scenes were lit enough to be visible, but dark enough to be eerie. The dank, dull lighting of the office hallways was nailed as well.

The foreshadowing was spot-on throughout. One of M3GAN’s programmed jobs was to keep anyone or anything from hurting Katie. So, when anyone so much as scratches Katie, the look in M3GAN’s cyborg eyes and the stillness in her movement tells you exactly what will happen (there were a lot of gory deaths in this movie).

M3GAN’s physical movements are strategically variable. When she acts like a parent, when caring for Katie, she has eerily human-like movements. However, in the high speed forest chase scene in the forest, she doesn’t run on two feet. She gets on all fours, and runs in a bone chilling manner.

By the end, because of a broken circuit caused by Gemma, M3GAN’s movements were completely inhuman. She’s jerking around, moving in horrifying bursts, still somehow speaking in a perfectly autotuned robotic voice. Terrifying.

There is a major flaw in the movie: the plot. I’m aware that there’s no way that anyone would’ve watched it if they didn’t give away the “doll goes nuts” plot twist in the trailer, but it ruins a significantly large portion of the movie. The whole storyline is just a tad too predictable. It goes just like a stereotypical doll horror movie. 

There’s an episode in season five of the 90s show The X-Files called “Chinga.” In that episode, the main character, a young girl, has a doll. When anyone threatens the girl, the doll uses telekinetic powers to kill them. This episode could very well have been a major influence for M3GAN.

The Child’s Play series, starring the infamous Chucky, also follows this pattern. Both M3GAN and Child’s Play share a key aspect; as the films progress, the starring-villain dolls become more and more hideous.  M3GAN’s transformation also makes her seem more and more inhuman.

The other problem with the plot is that it never has a sudden jump in intensity. It’s a very steady, consistent rise in action. The movie had potential to be much less boring than it actually was. Then again, director Gerard Johnstone had to cut out a lot of exciting scenes because they were too gruesome.

But M3GAN does something that other “creepy doll” movies don’t do. As technology evolves, the fear of it growing too powerful has become more relevant in our society.

When you really get to know how M3GAN operates and how she thinks, she begins to look unstoppable. She was never programmed to have the ability to kill. But she learned and gained strength until stopping here seemed like an impossible feat.

The other undertone this movie takes on is how we raised Gen Z and how we are raising the upcoming Generation Alpha. Katie is completely addicted to her tablet, until M3GAN comes into her life. We see the transition from Katie growing up with technology to her literally being raised by technology. Throughout the movie, M3GAN always excuses her own murderous crimes by telling Katie that it was just to protect her. Even though M3GAN was created to protect Katie, she ends up being more interested in the protection of herself. One of the doll’s final lines is “I’ve found a new primary user. Me.”

And while M3GAN follows the classic template for a doll horror movie, it still has depth that I did not expect. It’s an omen about how we might lose control of artificial intelligence in the future, and also the consequences of letting children become more attached to screens than the real world. While it is easy to say “it’s not scary because it’s not real,” isn’t that the future that humanity is hurtling towards inevitably? I think it’s scary because it could be real.