The mad geniuses at Blumhouse have created a killer robot doll for audiences to marvel over in this new film from a story by Akela Cooper and James Wan.
From the upcoming Renfield which sees Nicolas Cage star as Dracula to the disaster comedy Cocaine Bear about a mad grizzly on a coke binge, it’s no secret that Universal’s immediate slate of movies to come out in early 2023 appears catered to the audiences that saw their 2019 holiday disaster Cats as a so-bad-it’s-good classic. Another film sold as a campy delight is M3GAN, which has become a meme in and of itself since its trailer debuted online to literally millions of views, and those who gawked in awe at the ridiculousness on display won’t be disappointed in the film’s final product thanks to the well-written characters and campy tone, while the titular character herself steals the show in every way, shape and form.
M3GAN follows Cady (Violet McGraw), a young girl who is the sole survivor of a tragic accident that saw her parents killed after their car’s head-on collision with a snow plow while on their way to a ski trip. Cady is left in the care of her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), who is so dedicated to her work as a roboticist at the Funki Toy Company that she doesn’t have the experience of parenting, nor does she want the responsibilities that come with being her niece’s guardian.
To keep up with the fast pace of her career, Gemma elects to build a life-size humanoid robot doll named M3GAN (Amie Donald, but voiced by Jenna Davis) to keep her company like an actual sister. The results bring astonishment from Gemma’s co-workers and even a promotion from her boss David (Ronnie Chieng), as well as a shoulder for Cady to cry on. However, the ability Gemma gave M3GAN to learn and thus evolve her intelligence, coupled with her primary function to keep Cady happy sees Gemma’s quick fix reap terrifying consequences, as M3GAN becomes self-aware and overprotective of Cady to the point of committing heinous murder.
The strength of M3GAN by far comes in the screen presence of its titular character. M3GAN is impeccably crafted on all aspects of filmmaking; Davis’ voice performance succeeds in making her sound endearing and terrifying at the same time, while the body language of Donald and the prosthetic makeup she wears mimic the look and movements of an actual robot, as the sound effects of her limbs moving incite equal amounts of excitement and fear from audiences waiting for her to reappear on-screen with every step. Even an early scene where M3GAN paints a beautiful photorealistic painting reminiscent of renderings right out of Midjourney seems to pose questions about AI’s creeping existence in our society as an eerie uncanny valley. Regardless, the practical effects employed here are as amazingly done as they are unsettling in making M3GAN look realistic.
The dynamic of Gemma and Cady is also well realized as they go through their own compelling character arcs that add considerable weight to the story in addition to a level of relatability for some audiences. Gemma doesn’t want the responsibilities of being Cady’s guardian to get in the way of her work at Funki, but Cady is struggling to process her grief following the death of her parents and grows irrationally attached to the killer equivalent of an iPad for the sake of staying busy. Both Allison Williams and Violet McGraw convey their struggles together with a respective nuanced naturalism and reserved force, one that builds in its intensity the more time Cady spends with M3GAN.
What’s also worth noting is how well director Gerard Johnstone handles the absurdity of the script’s concept with a tone that veers toward camp, but is grounded wonderfully in reality with a sharp sense of humor, such as during a demonstration of M3GAN’s abilities that see executives bursting into performative tears, and dialogue that pokes fun at the products Gemma builds, while Chieng chews scenery with all the screen time he’s given as her boss.
And yet, there are places where M3GAN fails to live up to the hype. The script sets up a lot of potential for creative setpieces, such as the Amazon Alexa stand-in that Gemma uses for every function in her house, the threat AI poses toward rendering humans unnecessary, and the myriad of abilities M3GAN has at her disposal to evolve into an unstoppable killing machine. But at 102 minutes, the film sadly doesn’t have the runtime to pay off on all of them. It’s also worth noting that the PG-13 rating is a hindrance during the film’s more violent scenes, because M3GAN’s kills, while graphic, have little blood to show for them.
But it’s clear that producers Jason Blum and James Wan see franchise potential in their latest endeavor, and thought it best not to use all their ideas in one movie. It’s hard to argue that choice because M3GAN is a campy and entertaining breeze for its entire runtime. Audiences will be amazed by the practical effects that bring M3GAN to life, hope for Gemma and Cady to co-exist together and laugh at the intended silliness on display, whether it’s the sudden, menacing way M3GAN appears on screen from out of nowhere, or the dance she does for an executive which has marveled YouTube scrollers everywhere. There’s a new horror icon in the making at Atomic Monster and Blumhouse, and that’s why moviegoers and horror fans alike should celebrate Halloween in January with M3GAN.