‘M3GAN’- Film Review: A Good January Horror Movie?

Usually, nobody will get the slightest bit intrigued by the first movie released in January, especially since it’s always some lame horror movie studios that they get out of the way to be quickly forgotten in infamy. My decision to never go out to see them is always the right choice when I’ve never cared to witness such glorious gems as Texas Chainsaw 3D ten years ago or whatever the Grudge reboot was because I want to be scared. However, 2023 might start with an unexpected note with the latest thriller, M3GAN, because the momentum has been strong thanks to its meme-worthy trailers that had me laughing in the theater and the general hype behind it had to make it work. Still, my expectations were kept low, thinking there was no way it’ll be good. But to my surprise, M3GAN was actually cooler than I imagined.

After her parents were killed in a truck collision on a ski trip, nine-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw) is now in the custody of her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a roboticist for a high-tech toy company named Funki. Struggling to adapt to her new living situation and the fact she doesn’t have much time to spend with her, Gemma gets the idea to complete a project she’s been testing on at work called M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), a robot doll linked to being a child’s best friend. This creates a breakthrough and quick success as Cady and M3GAN are instantly bonding, being there physically and emotionally. But what happens when M3GAN’s objectives go too far when protecting the thing that matters most?

Directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) and from a screenplay by Malignant co-writer Akela Cooper with a story credit from producer James Wan, this isn’t the first of its kind to center around a sci-fi premise of artificial intelligence going haywire or the obvious killer doll. Yet, it wasn’t as dumb as I thought it would be. M3GAN goes out of its way by not only being a silly take on the overpopulated psycho-thrillers but containing this blend of comedy and thrills to keep me entertained right from the opening. Everybody involved seemed to know what movie they were making to, where it didn’t even try to take things seriously, which wasn’t a problem for me. Just when I thought it would be full of cheap scares (there’s probably a couple), there’s some within the story that could spark an honest conversation about the relationship between children and the constant usage of technology. In the film’s case, they brought the attachment theory up where Cady’s close friendship with her human-like doll when dealing with the tragic reality young kids go through. Yet, it is also a commentary on how parents/ adults should be there for their kids and not sit them down in front of a tablet 24/7.

Was it scary? Not really, since I would throw this in the thriller genre since it’s not aimed at giving someone nightmares. However, it gives me a lesson not to let my future kid not buy any robotic toys that will probably gain a conscious and destroy us all. But I was shocked at how often I thought the sense of humor worked when it wasn’t always trying to be when M3GAN was involved.

Speaking of which, we’re looking at a fan-favorite character to become an icon because M3GAN herself helps to be fun and oddly terrifying. Forget Annabelle; this is the killer doll to talk about. At least she actually moves around and doesn’t sit on the shelf. Throughout, I wondered how they made this robot come to life. And as it turned out, they created her using impressive animatronic puppetry and CGI that come together well to make it convincing in every scene she’s in. Allison Williams as Gemma just has an excellent presence in horror after Get Out, where she’s this flawed person who has no clue about becoming a guardian, and Violet McGraw gives a strong performance as Cady, who’s pretty easy to sympathize with.

With its PG-13 rating, I didn’t think that’s that what they were going for when the first trailer made us believe it would go the R-rating route in making it bloody. And it didn’t bother me much, but just learning it went through reshoots after the original cut was deemed “too violent” that wasn’t a surprise. But it leads to teenagers seeking it out to see it in theaters anyway. Besides that, the tones clashed with each other only around the third act when it started to get sillier to a somewhat predictable climax.

What a rare time to be the second year in a row where there’s a good horror movie for January (the other being Scream), but only M3GAN can manage to be a killer good time where I can easily describe it as an inspiration of Child’s PlayOrphan, and Deadly Friend. Just when I thought it would be so bad, it’s good kind of scenario, and it ended up being good in general. And judging from its better-than-expected critical reception and $30 million opening weekend, I can see this becoming one of Blumhouse’s better franchises since it won’t be too long until the announced sequel, M3GAN 2.0, comes out in 2025.

Overall, M3GAN didn’t reinvent the subgenre in any way. Still, with a refreshing take on the creepy doll premise, this kind of thriller delivered the promise of not taking itself seriously and enjoying being campy in all the right places, having a nice balance of laughs and tension. 

Score: [B]

M3GAN was released on January 6, 2023, and is now available to buy/ rent on multiple platforms| Rated PG-13 for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference| Runtime: 102 Minutes| Studio: Universal Pictures.

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