You’ve probably seen the viral dance that made M3GAN an “icon” before the film even premiered, but does this film live up to the hype?
Welcome to our first Not the Last Word review! In this series, we’ll be reviewing new films with an eye on how they interact with queer culture, social justice, and the zeitgeist. All reviews are opinions — because art is subjective — and we’ll aim to spark discussion instead of creating a value-based rating system!
PREVIEW (Spoiler Free)
You’ve probably seen it: the intentionally meme-able, somewhat repeatable, weirdly inscrutable dance sequence that made the titular character M3GAN a new “horror icon” before the film was even released. As a horror movie aficionado, and frankly a bit of an arthouse snob, I was still skeptical. We have seen time and time again how modern horror films shamelessly vye for the most ‘viral’ scares or marketing schemes (take for example, the disappointingly muddled Smile and its extreme guerilla marketing campaign).
When watching the film, the dance comes out of pretty much nowhere, echoing the dadaist humor found everywhere on TikTok and mirroring some of the best beautifully bizarre moments from a recent critical and personal favorite Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. It’s perfect internet fodder: a Tiktok dance challenge; an SNL inside joke, and RuPaul’s Drag Race “Lipsync For Your Life” moment all wrapped up into one less-than-a-minute blip. It is, by sheer social media spread alone, iconic.
But is it queer? And is the movie worth seeing just to find out how and when that weird little murder dance will happen? I’ll admit, I went into this movie expecting an enjoyable hate-watch of something so-bad-it’s-good. I left pleasantly surprised by how good the movie actually was: a cosmos of well-worn horror-comedy tropes held in the gravity of heartfelt central performances and a heavy coating of self-aware campy humor.
GREEN – Go See! (Ideally with a loud group of friends after a few rounds of drinks.)
To avoid a hierarchic number-based rating system, I’ll be rating films with colors, based on how urgently I think you should go see them. Red (wouldn’t watch again), Yellow (it’s a maybe), Green (go see), and Blue (blew my mind).
Leaving the theater and processing my experience, I was left with one major impression. The film never settles on one tone. One moment M3GAN is sincerely comforting a child grieving the loss of both her parents (an often explosive and heart-wrenching performance by Violet McGraw as Cady) and then in the very next shot executives of imaginary toy company Funki are milking fake tears for comedy-like cartoon characters. One moment M3GAN is dancing down a hallway, slaying a one-handed cartwheel, and the next she’s using her superhuman strength to falsify a suicide with harrowing frankness and a “stop-hitting-yourself” kind of cruelty. It’s this inability to pin down a tone that makes the movie so effective. You very quickly catch on to M3GAN’s objectives, but you never really know quite what she’s capable of. M3GAN represents all our worst fears about the sudden onset of seemingly omnipresent AI technology. With the hot debate surrounding programs like Midjourney, Chat GPT, Lensa, and the LAION-5B dataset (many claims include unethical, copyrighted, and privileged material), the questions posed in the film feel vibrant and vital.
Can AI eventually gain personhood? Will AI make certain human endeavors irrelevant? Where are the ethical boundaries for the implementation of AI? What effect will AI have on younger generations, already struggling with differentiating parasocial relationships from the real world? Is AI our friend or our foe? The film doesn’t take many definitive stances on these potent questions, even while it muses about the existential fears surrounding death, and hints at the general ethical quandaries of how to define personhood. It’s in this aspect that the film feels particularly Blumhouse in style: refusing to plumb much deeper than the surface on any one of its many amassed implications. Not willing to be as thorough as Spike Jonze’s Her or as dangerous as Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, M3GAN lands solidly in the “fun to watch but not life-changing” niche that Blumhouse steadily produces.
But, is she a “queer Icon”? This is a term that’s been bandied about a lot in the horror community. Popular documentary series and podcasts seem to have multiplied tenfold in the last year highlighting how Horror as a genre has always been driven by queer creators and then devoured and sustained by queer viewers. The LGBTQIA+ community has embraced M3GAN with fervor, to the point that even their enjoyment has become meme-fodder. And while during yet another era of queer-panic in conservative politics globally, it is probably a well-measured response for writer Akela Cooper to speculate M3GAN is a “queer Icon” because of the “found family” at the core of the film, that just isn’t it. All you have to do is look to the RuPaul fandom to understand that gay men really love a performative femme doing a stunty little dance before being morally reprehensible with little to no consequences. It has nothing to do with heart, and everything to do with Camp, witty cruelty as a personality, and the ever appropriated ballroom term “serving c*nt”.
I don’t know if that makes M3GAN a queer icon, but I can say that without the queer sensibility of camp that it relies upon, M3GAN would be as lifeless as her silicone mask.
Chris Steele (they/she) is a trans-femme nonbinary performance artist, poet, and activist. Together with their award-winning drag queen alter-ego Polly Amber Ross, they have been featured in editorials and on stages across the Bay Area; you can follow them Instagram and Twitter.
Feature image: Courtesy of Blumhouse Horror; edits conducted by Matthew Charnock