M3GAN ★★½

Uncanny Doll

We’re in Freud’s uncanny valley again with “M3GAN,” similar in that way to another recent hit high-concept horror flick, “Smile” (2022). Again, there’s a talk therapist to underscore this. The difference is, instead of, say, the infectious smiles of “Smile,” here it’s a child-like A.I. doll. “The Terminator” meets “The Omen” or “Children of the Corn” creepy kids. Timely exploitation, too, given recent headlines over Microsoft’s Sydney chat box and ChatGPT revolutionizing clickbait internet content and the ability of students to cheat themselves out of an education, or something. But, more likely, another obfuscated means of technological surveillance and data collection of users. To paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, in capitalist America artificial intelligence uses you. And, so it is with the android in this movie, following in a long line of overly-complicated and privacy-abandoning wired devices—those home-controlling virtual assistant boxes, smart phones, computerized cars, etc.

On the other hand, the meta-cinematic way to read this is that the doll is the camera, the hard drive, the cinematographic apparatus of digital f̶i̶l̶m̶ file-making, the indexicality of celluloid lost to the point where it’s indistinguishable where the animatronics, CGI, and child actor’s performance begin and end. Or corporatism and artisanry, for that matter. I’d like to the think that Allison Williams’s relatively robotic careerist—does the doll even bother trying to read her emotions with that Arnie/Iron Man computer-graphics display—is a deliberate problematizing of this concept, serving much in the same vein as her performance as the Waspy girlfriend in “Get Out” (2017). Otherwise, the involvement of James Wan and company and such casting as of stand-up comedian like Ronny Chieng rather gives away that this is supposed to be a joke of a B-movie—in such knowingly and silly poor taste, the sunglasses-wearing fashionista doll an’ all, that it’s celebrated for its camp value. I don’t disagree.

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