M3GAN review: A hilarious and sass-filled horror icon arrives

Amie Donald as M3gan.
Amie Donald as M3gan. Pic credit: Universal Pictures

The Chucky franchise clearly inspires M3gan, but more so the sillier sequels than its terrifying first film.

But, what M3gan gets right is the same frightening doll details that made Child’s Play a success. M3gan has a character arc, a witty and sass-filled personality, and when the movie switches her artificial intelligence on, M3gan as a film takes on a life of its own. Not to mention, M3gan has a resting murder face.

The ingredients are all here for a creepy doll movie. Did her eyes just move? Is M3gan really powered off? Was that a threatening AI response or is M3gan acting normally? All of these questions will be asked in this surprising horror film.

The film stars Allison Williams as Gemma, a tech worker at a toy manufacturer. Her niece Cady (Violet Mcgraw) finds herself an orphan after her parents died in a car wreck. Gemma volunteers to take Cady as her sole guardian. However, Gemma is swamped with a deadline at her job to deliver a prototype for a new product.

Cady, who is clearly in need of someone to care for her, discovers an old robot in Gemma’s office. She has so much fun with the machine and she explains to Gemma that if she had one like it, she would never need a toy ever again.

This inspires Gemma to resurrect an old invention she put aside. The invention prototype named M3gan was placed on hold after her disgruntled boss David (Ronny Chieng) ordered Gemma to deliver something more simple and practical.

Technology as a coping device

But Cady needs a friend. Thus, resulting in Gemma fast-tracking the M3gan unit into full realization.

Entering the film now is M3gan. A child-sized robot, in a dress, full of sass, and has all the algorithmic code necessary to be Cady’s greatest protector, emotionally and physically. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator protecting John Connor, only more adorable–and creepy.

The film has a commentary about using technology as a placeholder for caregiving. It’s not uncommon to see parents letting kids spend time with their tablets, games, or computers instead of being in the present moment with the child. Gemma is a workaholic and uses M3gan to comfort Cady in her time of grieving when Gemma should be doing the work herself.

The need for connection is the emotional hook of the film. Cady needs Gemma more than she knows, and it’s Gemma’s journey into becoming a more caring person that gives the movie a heart.

The robotic caregiver, M3gan has facial expressions that range from concern, love, and “I am going to slap the s*** out of you.” And oftentimes her clap-back responses to threatening forces conjure huge laughs as well as tension.

Where Child’s Play played with the fear of dolls being alive, M3gan uses fear of self-aware objects in the home. Most of us would be genuinely creeped out if Alexa began playing music for no reason or began acting angrily. This notion is the reason why this reviewer avoids using Echos. It’s an irrational fear in the same vein as being afraid of a doll becoming possessed by a serial killer.

Separately, the only pitfall with M3gan is the adjustment to PG-13. The film is hilarious, bonkers, and sometimes shocking. But one can feel the movie holding itself back with the violence. There was room for this movie to be as loony on the kills as the M3gan character herself. For example, approaching the death scenes like Final Destination 2 would have matched the insanity perfectly.

It’s an understandable decision given the struggling box-office climate. Blumhouse and Universal will see more profit by converting the movie to PG-13. Even so, going bananas on M3gan’s murdering scenes would have skyrocketed the film to greatness.

M3gan’s conclusion leaves much to be desired as well. Without spoiling too much, if one is familiar with the horror genre, there is nothing new in terms of surprises. The final shot is also very similar to Child’s Play (although this is probably paying homage intentionally).

M3gan is a sassy and hilarious horror ride

Endings and ratings aside, M3gan is a pleasant surprise for the horror genre. This is the kind of horror movie where watching with a crowded audience heightens the experience.

Similar to Chucky, director Gerard Johnstone has crafted a memorable villain who is thrilling, charismatic, and witty.

For more reviews, check out the coverage for movies such as Wildcat and The Whale.

M3gan hits theaters everywhere tomorrow.

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