This modern techno take on Child’s Play is a solid way to kick off horror movies in 2023
Move over, Chucky. Step aside, Annabelle. There’s a new generation of evil murderous doll on the market and she positively slays. M3gan is the ultimate robot companion / remorseless killer, playing, singing and dancing with children one minute and then viciously tearing apart anyone who dares look at her wrong the next. From Blumhouse and director Gerard Johnstone, this horror comedy is a rejuvenating start to 2023 at the movies and a fun kickoff for the horror genre this year.
Gemma (Allison Williams) is a brilliant roboticist and full-time workaholic who invents cutting-edge toys for a major company. She’s on the verge of her latest breakthrough: An AI-driven, lifelike doll designed to be a child’s best friend and closest confidant. M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android) can do it all: Play any manner of games with your kid, teach them everything from basic manners to advanced mathematics, protect them from harm, be their therapist, you name it. Parents or any other human companions are basically no longer required once M3gan is in your home!
So when Gemma becomes the sole guardian for her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) following the death of the little girl’s parents, it makes for the perfect opportunity to give M3gan a real test run. Naturally, the robot has some obvious flaws. Despite everything going tremendously at first – to the point where Gemma’s company prepares to launch the high-tech toy on the market ASAP – M3gan begins to act a wee bit overprotective of Cady. Anyone who causes the girl any kind of distress, however minor, becomes a target for the rapidly learning android. And violence is her go-to method for dealing with them.
After a tedious opening act, things finally get rolling once M3gan is switched on and officially joins the story. Brought to life by a combination of child actress Amie Donald, the voice of Jenna Davis and both practical and digital effects, the pint-sized killer rightfully steals the show. Sassy yet sweet, unavoidably creepy due to her synthetic doll features and terrifying due to her cold and cunning demeanor when she’s in kill-mode (as well as almost unstoppable thanks to a sturdy titanium body), M3gan is an instant horror icon. The fact that she happens to be fabulously chic is just a bonus. The robotic protector also has refreshing motivations for a horror villain, killing only for what she sees as the sake of Cady. Anytime she’s onscreen, the film is electrifying.
Which is of course part of what makes the rest of the film feel so lacking in comparison. Scenes she’s not in give away how rote and predictable the plot actually is. M3gan herself delivers exactly the right kind of campiness for a premise this ridiculous; M3GAN the movie can’t sustain it consistently enough. Outside of inspired moments like the film’s various toy commercials, a pivotally hilarious scene where M3gan is first presented to the company board, and pretty much all of M3gan’s dialogue, it feels like things are played far too straight for the most part.
The story comes from horror icon James Wan and rising star Akeela Cooper, the same duo that gave us the most delightfully unhinged scary movie of 2021, Malignant. M3GAN is on a similar wavelength; it’s mostly aware of its own absurdity and leans into that with a kind of mean-spirited glee. The film manages to be entertaining enough thanks to those times it actually lets itself loose, but still never feels quite nasty enough. Perhaps it’s the PG-13 rating that holds M3GAN back from going all out with its horror and its humor – Malignant’s R-rating allowed for genuine insanity on both ends.
Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that M3GAN doesn’t contain much in the way of surprise. You’re getting exactly what you’d expect from this movie and nothing more. While that may prove to be just enough to warrant a ticket this time around, here’s hoping that an inevitable sequel can take this idea and really run somewhere with it.
‘M3GAN’ is now playing in theaters.