Loco Parentis: M3gan

My friend and frequent podcast collaborator once said, “never get in a car with someone who’s been in Girls.” Sage advise perhaps for the young girl who co-stars with Allison Williams in M3gan. Then again, this latest Blumhouse horror joint depends heavily on Williams’s absolute lack of desire to be a parent. It is right for the sake of this story for us to get in her car have her take us on this ride.

M3gan (2023)
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writer: Akela Copper
Notable Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez

Plot: 8 year old Cady (McGraw) is the sole survivor of a traffic accident that killed her parents. Her aunt Gemma (Williams) takes custody of her niece because she mistrusts the weirdo Florida grandparents on the groom’s side. Gemma is a skilled roboticist/AI programmer, and as she struggles to connect with her niece at the expense of her career, she soon develops M3gan, an amazing AI driven robot companion with an imperative to parent the child that imprints on her, and to learn and grow to a point of deadly mayhem.

Commentary: Above all, parents (myself very much included) can feel called out by M3gan. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone that relies on YouTube or an iPad to raise their child. I’ve succumbed to the temptation to throw a screen at my child so I can get some shit done, or because I just needed a goddamned moment to myself. But I also feel the guilt; glazed eyes, an evident addiction to a YouTube personality, a beautiful sunny afternoon spent indoors over a video game, and I’m ready to call CPS on myself.

That’s not a problem the character of Gemma has. It’s written right there in the cold sunless void of the only facial expression Williams mustered for the whole movie. She could barely feign grief over the death of her own sister. Gemma has no problem letting an iPad do all the work but when called out by a social worker, she uses her prodigious gifts around programming and cybernetics to develop the ultimate parent proxy.

Gemma also has never read one novel by Isaac Asimov.

M3gan also takes delightful jabs at the crass consumerism surrounding toy crazes. Cabbage Patch Dolls, Furbies, Beanie Babies – those monstrous wallet draining obsessions that turn tacky and visually offensive, subtract from culture, and enrich only Elon-esque Chief Executive Officer grotesqueries. Things that Poly Styrene warned us about in 1977.

M3gan is by no means a perfect movie. The standard subplot around evil corporate fuckery is paper thin, and it’s bloody conclusion was forced and anticlimactic, despite M3gan’s iconic dance moves. And to that point, our titular toy terror is great. She melds creep to a graceful and eerie physicality. She carves her own niche, standing apart from her cinematic horror doll contemporaries like the Chucky family and Annabelle. More importantly, because of the well executed pace of the film you can witness in wonder her “growth” from a simple AI program to a deranged, out of control chaotic monster. There is one incredibly insidious scene where you almost buy M3gan as a benevolent creature full of empathy.

AI programs are already drawing our art and composing our online posts. Are you moved by their work? Will you trust them with the learning and growth of your children?

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