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Artificial Intelligence and Technology: The New Horror Film Frontier?

Last Updated: July 5, 2023
Ahead of the M3GAN premiere, entertainment editors share their thoughts on how the inclusion of technology has evolved throughout cinematic history.

Scream, The Shining, The Blair Witch Project, Psycho, The Children of the Corn, The Exorcist, The Nun — these are just a few of the best horror films of all time.

In 2017, The Wrap reported that horror movies grossed over $1 billion USD alone — which was the year of the re-imagination of Stephen King’s It, the arguably Groundhog’s Day-inspired Happy Death Day, and Jordan Peele’s directorial debut of Get Out, which proved that horror films will always reign supreme no matter what time of year it is.

Now, horror, thriller, and cinema, in general, have taken a turn to create a more relatable avenue of content that may hit a little too close to home.

Screenshot from I, Robot

From the Will Smith-starring film I, Robot to Blumhouse’s 2023 premiere of M3GAN, technology and artificial intelligence have found their way onto the silver screen, but not in the family-friendly way that The Jetsons gave us. While tech is used in our day-to-day lives from self-driving Teslas to artificial intelligence-based beauty products and services, what is it that makes something so useful and seemingly ordinary so terrifying at the same time?

“Art imitates life, or in this case, Hollywood loves to imitate what’s current and trendy,” Njera Perkins, POPSUGAR’s Associate Celebrity and Entertainment Editor, told Boardroom. “As the world becomes more technologically advanced, films have a duty to reflect the times, and these days, supernatural horror films don’t seem as scary compared to those that employ everyday tech as the source of our biggest fears. Given that artificial intelligence is a sector of tech that many people still question because of a lack of understanding, it serves as the perfect fear to exploit in horror.”

Perkins credits most recent debuts of movies such as Countdown (2019) and the re-imagination of Child’s Play (2019), as well as Netflix’s cult-favorite series “Black Mirror,” as prime examples of what she labels as “techno-horror flicks” that focus on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, or any form of a technological advancement that has the potential to go awry.

“A movie like M3GAN, where the plot centers on a killer AI robot doll with human-like capabilities, reflects how horror is both keeping up with modern times and expanding on movie concepts previously introduced in franchises like Child’s Play and Annabelle — only instead of using supernatural elements, technology is the catalyst for terror,” Perkins added.

Before there was M3GAN, which premieres in theaters Friday, there were movies that walked so the Blumhouse production could film. Among those are Ex Machina, Upgrade, and Alien: Covenant, according to ESSENCE Entertainment Editor River Ruff, which she said, “set the blueprint for what M3GAN appears to be — the creation turns on its creator.” While she notes that the inclusion of AI and technology has been a long-standing subsection of the movie genre, Ruff further analyzes how horror, thriller, and suspense films have instilled a fear of “fantasy tech” into viewers because it’s catching up to real-time settings.

“We’re just touching the edge of and examining those very rational fears we have about the intimate relationship mankind is steadily forming with tech and how that could negatively or positively impact our lives. Imagine something created to intelligently serve a specific purpose, suddenly getting intelligent enough to dissent and decide it knows best. Or worse, that it doesn’t like you,” said Ruff.

As a proud millennial, freelance journalist Shanique Yates remembers her introduction to tech terror films — Disney Channel Original Movies (or, if you’re old enough to remember, DCOM) Pixel Perfect and Smart House. Similar to Ruff’s views, Yates believes that M3GAN relates directly to these films due to its transition from helpful technology as a means to make the lives of the protagonist easier to harmful artificial intelligence that develops a mind of its own and, in turn, results in deadly consequences for the creator.

AI Technology
M3GAN in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone

“In both instances, the technology eventually wants to be recognized as actual human beings and yearns to share the same lived experiences as their creators. That obsession to be everything to the person that is in ownership of them is a theme that, from the trailer of M3GAN, seems like it also applies in this film,” Yates told Boardroom. “All three projects explore the dangers of using technology to create products that become so attached to their “person” that they ultimately grow to cause more harm than the good they were initially intended for.”

With movies on the horizon from sci-fi drama Her starring Joaquin Phoenix, to IFC Film’s Rent-A-Pal, what does this mean for the future of AI-based thrillers?

“We’re definitely at that point now where I see so many people get actively dependent on tech. It’s exciting to talk about the future of tech and tech making things easier. As someone who reports on tech, I think about how AI can get and how it can spiral like it does in a lot of movies,” media-tech reporter Miranda Perez admitted to Boardroom about the evolution of dystopian tech terror films.

In Perez’s eyes, watching films such as Smart House may be a bit more “cringey” in 2022, as we’ve graduated to Alexa, Siri, and other smart home apparatuses, as demonstrated in Jordan Peele’s Us when Alexa was ordered to call the police during a time of distress and instead played N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police.”

“It’s scary because it’s relatable. Film is art, and art reflects life — both good and bad. I think the possibilities that creatives think of are never too farfetched from a reality,” Perez added. “It’s exciting to explore, but it’s scary to think about how unmonitored people are with their tech interactions and tech consumptions.”

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About The Author
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown is the Music and Entertainment Editor at Boardroom. Prior to joining the Boardroom team, she served as the Associate Editor at ESSENCE and Girls United, ESSENCE's Generation Z platform. Through the years, the Spelman College graduate has amassed bylines in entertainment, fashion, beauty, wellness, and business across For(bes) The Culture, HYPEBAE, Byrdie, HighSnobiety, xoNecole, REVOLT, and more.