By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
It only takes moments into M3GAN to grasp the tone and approach to the latest killer doll movie. A fake commercial for toy company Funki advertises the ludicrous Perpetual Pets toy. As the commercial states, unlike real pets, Perpetual Pets can never die (because they’re toys). They are fun, farting, big-eyed replacements for your pets that the company Funki seemingly fails to realize are pretty creepy.
Intelligently establishing the tone early on, M3GAN proceeds forward to be an engaging, humorous horror collaboration from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse and James Wan’s Atomic Monster. M3GAN comes from director Gerald Johnstone and stars Allison Williams (Get Out) as Gemma, a toy-developer who unexpectedly becomes the caregiver for her 8-year-old niece played by Violet McGraw (The Haunting of Hill House) and decides to introduce her niece to a prototype artificial intelligence.
If someone is even fleetingly aware of M3GAN’s premise, or has been exposed to the film’s revealing promotional material, it’s fairly easy to forecast the entirety of the film’s events. M3GAN doesn’t push the boundaries of horror cinema the way some of Blumhouse’s other efforts have done over the last decade, and relies heavily on the tropes of killer doll movies like Child’s Play. That being said, M3GAN is undoubtedly a fun time at the movies.
Equal parts silly, campy, unnerving, and creepy, director Gerald Johnstone and writer Akela Cooper strike a perfect tonal balance with M3GAN. It’s not long after you come off laughing from a clever one-liner that the director frames an unsettling shot of the titular doll that sends tingles down your spine. Much of this has to do with how brilliant of a character (and movie villain) M3GAN is. The doll takes some time to feature fully in the movie, but, when she does, she’s the center of attention. M3GAN’s design and Jenna Davis’ voice as the character simultaneously lend themselves to some hilarious quips and visual gags and creepy imagery and dialogue. In the same way that Brad Dourif’s Chucky changed the killer doll subgenre of horror in Child’s Play forever, it’s difficult to envision an outcome in which M3GAN doesn’t become a staple of horror cinema moving forward.
There is plenty of silliness and craziness in M3GAN, but it never quite gets as bonkers as it has the potential to go. Reports that the film underwent reshoots to secure a PG-13 rating seem more than feasible after watching the film, with more than a few scenes clearly tamed down to be appropriate for a young audience. Saying the filmmakers played it safe is unnecessarily harsh though. M3GAN is a well-crafted blend of horror and comedy, equipped with perfect pacing to make for a movie-going experience that is so effortlessly entertaining.
The titular, villainous doll is accompanied by Allison Williams and Violet McGraw as Gemma and Cady respectively. Williams is serviceable as the inventor of M3GAN and unexpected caregiver of her niece Cady, although there isn’t much depth to her character. McGraw, on the other hand, is excellent as Cady, Gemma’s niece who is orphaned after her parents die in a car accident. McGraw tragically captures the trauma of Cady’s loss in the film, and eventually contributes significantly to how unnerving of a film M3GAN is. Cady’s attachment to M3GAN, while healthy and almost therapeutic at first, spirals out of control and represents a heightened take on the consequences of children spending too much time with technology. In this sense, M3GAN is the killer doll genre adapted to a modern, technological era, something the 2019 remake of Child’s Play attempted and somewhat failed to do.
Although lacking in novelty and playing out far too predictably, M3GAN is a crowd-pleasing entertainer that wonderfully embraces the absurdity of the killer doll genre. With the new Jason Blum and James Wan-produced film, horror has found a new mascot with the film’s titular doll, who is equal parts ridiculously silly and unsettling. This tonal balance between campy and creepy proves to be M3GAN’s crowning achievement and makes for a movie-going experience so entertaining that it’s easy to overlook the film’s risk-averse approach. In the same manner that Child’s Play changed the horror genre in 1988, M3GAN will likely change the horror genre in 2023.