You’ve heard of Chucky. You’ve heard of Annabelle. You may have even heard about Corky, but now, there’s a new killer doll in town – M3GAN. Sure, you’ve seen her marketing stunts and countless memes on your Twitter timeline, but as it turns out, she’s got a lot more up her sleeve than just online virality. In his first film since 2014’s Housebound, director Gerard Johnstone’s AI horror delivers startles and laughs, despite being clearly held back by its PG-13 rating.
After an unexpected tragedy, roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) and her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) find their lives dramatically changed. To help the young girl cope with the accident that claimed the lives of her parents, Gemma introduces her to a prototype doll she and her co-workers (Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez) have been working on: a self-reliant AI doll named, you guessed it, M3GAN. Cady immediately falls in love with the doll, unaware that she’s becoming more cognizant of the world’s uglier aspects, turning her into a lean, mean killing machine.
Perhaps the coolest thing about M3GAN is the titular doll itself. Created using a stunt double (Amie Donald) and standard VFX, M3GAN never looks out of place or approaches the uncanny valley. This arguably makes her even more unsettling, as her realism marks her as an even more terrifying threat. This also goes for her “real” form, or rather, the robotic framework hidden underneath her artificial skin. As for the rest of the film’s effects, they’re solid, if not done a slight disservice by not showing the full impact of the doll’s killing spree.
“It’s honestly like she’s part of the family, now.”
Unfortunately, that technical disservice is what hampers M3GAN from greatness. The film was shot for an R rating but was edited down to hit PG-13, presumably to reach a wider audience. While it still delivers a tense and sometimes scary experience, it becomes abundantly clear why the film needed that R rating. By toning down the violence and kills, there just feels like something is missing from the film.
Despite this, M3GAN still succeeds in what it sets out to do – be a campy, suspenseful horror-comedy with a message more relevant than ever. A lot of this can be attributed to the film’s terrific script by Malignant’s Akela Cooper. The quips never feel forced, and its message on the dangers of relying on AI maintain a fair balance between poignant and corny. The fact that it manages to strike that balance between being a straight horror and a straight comedy is pretty damn commendable given its instantly meme-worthy premise. However, the movie smartly understands that a future where M3GAN can become a real possibility is more likely than we may want to admit.
Depending on how Online™ you are, you might not find M3GAN to live up to the hype. But to call it a letdown in any capacity downplays just how effective the film actually is, despite its PG-13 handicap. While we wish M3GAN got to partake in more vicious carnage, what she did provide was a smart and effective sci-fi horror that will, unfortunately, age pretty damn well.
M3GAN is now playing in theaters. Watch the official trailer here.
Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
M3GAN - 7/10