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Laramie Movie Scope: M3gan

Better than average horror film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 26, 2024 – I skipped this one when it was in the local movie theaters because I am not a fan of horror films, but when I got a chance to pick up the blu ray cheap at a thrift store, I bought it because the reviews on it were positive. I am glad I did. This horror film has higher production values than most, and it avoids the blood and gore of most horror films. I enjoyed it.

This movie made quite a splash when it came out last year. It even inspired a kind of robot dance (you have to see the dance, or the movie, to know what it looks like). This was a highly profitable movie for Universal and Blumhouse since it did not cost much to make and it grossed $180 million worldwide (more than 10 times its cost). That's the sort of return on investment that explains why there are so many horror movies made.

The basic story is as old, or older, than Frankenstein (1818). Scientist builds robot. Robot turns bad and kills people. The scientist forgot to program the robot with Isaac Asimov's well-known Three Laws of Robotics (which date back to 1942). The three laws are:
1. A robot must not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Pretty clever, huh?

The story opens with a young girl, Cady (played by Violet McGraw of “A Christmas Mystery”) whose parents are killed in a car crash. She is adopted by her aunt, Gemma (played by Allison Williams of “Get Out”) who is a brilliant robotics scientist. She is busy on some big robotics projects, and doesn't really have time to take care of Cady, but she does build a robotic companion for her.

The robotic companion, M3gan, is years in advance of anything that can be built today, both in terms of its artificial intelligence, its ability to wirelessly control other computers, and its superhuman strength, agility, speed, and incredible battery life. That puts M3gan firmly in the realm of science fiction.

The head of Gemma's toy company, David (Ronny Chieng of “Crazy Rich Asians”) is firmly opposed to Gemma's M3gan project, until he sees a demonstration of its astounding abilities to bond with Cady and become her best friend. He sees M3gan as the Cadillac of toys, something that well-heeled parents will pay $10,000 to buy. A kind of robotic babysitter.

Everything seems to be going great for Gemma, but then she sees that Cady has become too attached to M3gan and too emotionally dependent on the robot. This is a phenomenon that Lydia (Amy Usherwood) a therapist in the movie, says is consistent with “attachment theory.” M3gan, in effect, has become Cady's parent, and she resists taking advice from Gemma or anyone else than M3gan.

M3gan has been given the responsibility of protecting Cady from harm, and the robot starts taking things too far in that regard, as far as murder. The robot also proves very good at covering up evidence of her crimes. By the time Gemma figures out what is going on, things have gotten way out of hand, and her cute, creepy little robot has become a deadly menace.

This is all serious stuff, of course. M3gan is also kind of creepy-looking, but she also displays a sarcastic wit that is funny. She is not impressed at all with Gemma and the other humans she comes in contact with. This cheeky little robot feels superior to humans, and maybe she is, in her own way. There has been a lot of discourse lately about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Robots like M3gan are not what these arguments are about, yet, but this movie seems like it fits into that discussion.

M3gan is at the heart of this movie. Her character was animated by puppeteers. Actress Amie Donald did some of the physical action scenes. Apparently, there was also some motion capture of Amie Donald, and the Weta team at New Zealand enhanced her scenes with special effects. The effect of all this work to animate the robot is very impressive. The acting, by Williams, McGraw, and the supporting actors, is very good.

The directing, by Gerard Johnstone, and the screenplay, by Akela Cooper, are very effective in building suspense gradually without the use of some of the more jarring and obnoxious horror gimmicks. Some of the violence early on in the movie is suggested, rather than seen. That helps build the suspense to the big action scenes near the end of the movie. This is a very well made and entertaining horror film, maybe the best I've seen since “The Invisible Man” (2020). This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]