M3GAN

Killer dolls and deadly artificial intelligence isn’t a new concept for horror fans. Yet M3GAN proves that there are still plenty of thrilling and campy stories to be told. Director Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) brings to life the delightfully deranged screenplay by Akela Cooper (Hell Fest, Malignant).

The film introduces us to young Cady, played by Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep), after she loses her parents in a tragic accident. Cady is put in the care of her aunt Gemma, played by Allison Williams (Get Out, The Perfection). Gemma is a very talented robotics engineer working for a popular toy company. She decides to build a life-size doll with AI technology to create a companion named M3GAN for Cady and help her cope with her recent loss. What starts out as a resounding success quickly turns dangerous as M3GAN takes her role as Cady’s protector a little too seriously.

Between the success of Malignant and now M3GAN, Blumhouse is beginning to understand that horror fans love camp. While the very serious, traumatic horror films created by other production companies like A24 are great, sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch a horror movie that is simply fun without having to put too much thought into it. M3GAN does just that. The film clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously. The robo-doll looks like a living Bratz doll and dresses like a wealthy English kid at stylish boarding school. Watching a character that looks like that do absolutely horrific crimes is definitely suspenseful, but it’s also funny because the idea of something so pretty and perfect being so violent is hilariously incongruous. The filmmakers even manage to throw in a couple of musical performances for M3GAN to sing, which had me cackling, as well as her iconic viral dance number that leads into one of her bloodier kills.

All that being said, the film still touches on some of the more serious topics of loss and grief, especially in children, in a way that is compelling and accessible. While I wish the film had gone a bit deeper into Cady’s mental state as she comes to terms with the sudden life changes happening in the wake of losing her parents. Instead, the plot focuses more on Cady in relation to her interactions with M3GAN and in relation to her interactions with Gemma. I do understand these choices were likely made due to this being a PG-13 film trying to entertain both adults and younger audiences, but I think they could still have emphasized the mental health themes while appealing to the wider audience.

Most horror fans will likely recognize Williams and McGraw, both of whom have been making a name for themselves in the horror space for the past few years. In M3GAN, both deliver fantastic performances to make audiences root for their characters. McGraw shows the audiences how sweet Cady can be, but she’s also still very broken and in the healing process. She makes the moments when Cady acts out believable because she is a child grieving without anyone to really help her navigate those feelings. Williams also gives a great performance as Gemma. The way she is able to convey the awkwardness of being an adult used to living a somewhat solitary, child-free lifestyle now having to learn how to cohabitate and be a parent is perfection. Also, huge shout out to Amie Donald (Sweet Tooth) and Jenna Davis (Maggie) for bringing M3GAN to life as her body and voice, respectively.

Speaking of bringing M3GAN to life, we need to talk about this now iconic, meme and gif-worthy robotic doll. I greatly appreciate that the filmmakers went almost entirely practical while creating this character. There are some moments in the film with subtle CGI, and some of that is clearly used to enhance M3GAN in certain scenes, but for the most part everything was done with makeup and practical effects. While there isn’t necessarily a lot of gore in this film, remember it is PG-13, there are still one or two scenes that find ways to show something truly disturbing without it being overtly graphic. That in and of itself is a craft that is incredibly difficult to master, so I commend this effects team!

M3GAN is a harbinger of a new age of horror. Between her iconic look, the campy dance moves and singing, and of course the murderous tendencies, it’s clear that Cooper and Johnstone have given audiences an entirely new horror icon to rival that of Chucky and Annabelle. She might not deliver as much when it comes to gore or supernatural terror, but there’s no doubting M3GAN is a force to be reckoned with and she is here to indoctrinate young moviegoers into new horror fans. I truly hope we get to see more not only of this unhinged killer robotic doll, but I also hope we get to see much more work from Johnstone, Cooper, Williams, and McGraw.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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