Blumhouse replatforms screentime pearl-clutching with uncanny valley girl M3GAN

It’s been a while since the concept of the singularity troubled the box office but with the seemingly unstoppable rise of AI-powered well, everything, permeating mainstream consciousness, it doesn’t take much intelligence – artificial or otherwise – to predict that Blumhouse, the McDonalds of horror, would seek to capitalise on the topic with M3GAN, a generic recipe of existential headlines and genre clichés in a serviceable but forgettably bland sci-fi/ horror nothing burger.

When roboticist and toy designer Gemma (Allison Williams) finds herself abruptly acting as parent and guardian to her orphaned niece Cady (Violet McGraw), she quickly sees the situation as the perfect UAT opportunity for her latest passion project: M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), a life-sized robot doll powered by a heuristic artificial intelligence algorithm designed to protect and nurture their bonded child. But as Cody comes to rely on M3GAN, the android’s programming takes a distinctly (and inevitably) dark turn.

In its early scenes, M3GAN seems like it has something new and interesting to say, parrying the white-hot topicality of the corporate harvesting of personal data and its power to manipulate individuals and populations alike but it very quickly devolves into a predictable retread of the likes of CHILD’S PLAY (2019) and I, ROBOT (2015), despite the fertile subject of outsourcing parental responsibility and socialisation to gadgets and gizmos.

Perhaps it’s due to licensing or copyright issues that James Wan and Akela Cooper’s story avoids mentioning Asimov’s Three Laws Of Robotics by name, but the absence of any real acknowledgement of them and the logic underpinning them creates something of a nagging credibility problem for the character of Gemma in that it takes her far too long to see what her code has become and while the commercial drive for the next epoch-defining tech product gives some motivation for her wilful ignorance, it doesn’t do much for the likability of the character.

The performances are good, though, and the effects work impressive, especially Amie Donald’s work as M3GAN under the prosthetics but the robot’s slide into at first targeted and then seemingly arbitrary homicide feels a little unearned unless we’re to accept the idea that increasing exposure to human civilisation will invariably cause any incipient intelligence to conclude that humanity should be wiped out. Actually, given most of the events since the mid-2010s perhaps that’s not such a reach after all.

In the end, M3GAN isn’t quite thought-provoking enough to succeed as sci-fi and a little too tame to really stake a claim as a horror movie, despite its late-in-the-film embrace of the by-now played-out “broken doll crab walking” that it seems no horror is allowed to go without these days but it’s perfectly serviceable, disposable entertainment junk food. Just remember to put the wrapper in the correct recycling bin when you’re done.

Score 6

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