It’s January. Time to watch a terrible horror movie again… for the nth time. At least it seemed that way when we first heard of the new Blumhouse film M3GAN, a movie that felt like every bad horror movie premise rolled into one. Turns out, everyone involved was already a step ahead. M3GAN is essentially 102 minutes of the filmmakers saying, “Of course it’s dumb, so we might as well have some fun with it.” And had fun, the filmmakers did, because this is one of the most unapologetically dumb horror movies I have seen in a long time, and it’s all for the better.
The tone is set immediately in its opening, with an obnoxious but all-too-familiar toy commercial that brings back childhood joy and adult awkward laughs. That ad is for a pet robot, designed to replace your lost best friend, and it is one of many toy designs that roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) is responsible for designing.
But right when she is pressured to deliver the next model for the company, she unexpectedly gains custody of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw), who just lost her parents in a car accident. And so Gemma lets Cady move into her place, and we can all feel the uncomfortable awkwardness in the room – Gemma has no parenting experience, and she herself knows it. So when she sees Cady bonding with her outdated private project, an A.I. humanoid robot, Gemma feels inspired to create the Model 3 Generative Android aka M3GAN. For Gemma, it’s the next step in A.I. technology and toys for children, but perhaps it’s a way for her to dump her parental responsibilities onto an inanimate object?
M3GAN (Jenna Davis) is a robot that can do anything. She can learn, grow, and become more intelligent as she interacts with the people around her. Most of all, she pairs with your child and can become their best friend, helping you take care of adult things around the house, as if she is now part of the family. With Gemma pairing M3GAN to Cady, she will now be Cady’s best friend and will protect her from anybody. Wait, you didn’t mean that literally, right? Oh… yeah… the robot took it literally.
Let’s be honest, you’ve seen this before. It’s the killer doll repackaged. It’s Chucky with built in A.I. and access to the Internet of Things (IoT) – actually that’s the plot of the 2019 Child’s Play remake. But you’ve never quite seen it with this much swag, sass, and spunk. Credit goes to screenwriter Akela Cooper, whose previous experience in writing Malignant gives her the advantage of writing unapologetic horror camp.
We’re all here to see M3GAN, and on that front, the film embraces her to full iconic levels. Her design strikes the right balance between uncanny valley robotics and cute harmless schoolgirl, but her personality really doesn’t come to life until Davis’ voice takes over. She either delivers a line nonchalantly or expresses M3GAN’s enthusiasm in a repetitive manner that it starts to bear a tinge of sarcasm. At a point, you no longer care how cheesy a line of dialogue is because the delivery is so perfect. It makes her an exceptional opponent to Gemma, who begins to suspect that her creation can no longer be controlled.
Most of all, the film succeeds because it takes its time telling its story. At first, M3GAN doesn’t seem so bad. Yeah, she harms some people but the playful PG-13 horror elements allow the film to gloss over some of the more horrifying details. Secondly, the people she targets kind of deserve it. And of course, there comes a point where M3GAN will go too far, where the film acknowledges that it can’t always be all fun and games. Though the emotional beats can seem a bit rushed at times, the script bothers to give Gemma a chance to become a better parent to Cady, as she slowly starts to see that her own role will always surpass whatever M3GAN can do. It’s a brief but welcome element of substance that Cooper adds in the writing, giving the film a touch of commentary on our tendency to have technology replace human interactions and how that can be harmful to the people involved.
It all builds to a ridiculous but satisfying third act that left me grinning in the theater. When it comes to January horror movies, most of the time the disappointment comes from the movies not lacking the desire to do something different. You can absolutely roll with a cliche premise so long as the movie’s got personality and everyone is committed to the tone from start to finish, as is the case with M3GAN. Blumhouse already gave us two horror films that take a familiar idea and spin it to campy results, with Happy Death Day and Freaky. M3GAN just proves once again that the folks over at Blumhouse know what they’re doing. With that, they’ve made a new horror icon, and she’s here to stay. Frankly, I’d love to see her again.
M3GAN is now playing only in theaters from Universal Pictures.