Aside from the creepy poster featuring the title character, two things had me concerned going into M3GAN. First, the gimmicky title spelling (Look! We replaced the E with a 3! Aren’t we clever!) screams cheesy sequel (2 Fast 2 Furious) without the benefit of a first movie. Second, the movie was produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions (the horror factory which veers from making good horror movies (Get Out) to making schlocky horror movies (Unfriended, countless sequels to The Purge, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity) with workmanlike if not inspired adaptations of Halloween and the Invisible Man mixed in) and James Wan. Luckily, M3GAN exceeded my expectations by dialing back the blood spatter and actually relying on a good script.
When a young girl’s parents die in an accident at the beginning of the movie (it’s so telegraphed that the question isn’t if it happens, but how and when), she is sent to live with her Aunt Gemma, who happens to design toys for toy company that peddles app enabled toy pets (think Furbys that can talk to you). She uses her niece as a test subject for her newest toy, M3GAN, which is a lifelike artificial intelligence robot that is oodles of fun to play with.
The plot feels a lot like Child’s Play, with M3GAN playing the Chucky role. However, the film is elevated in three ways. First, the character of Gemma is more nuanced than your typical horror movie. She clearly isn’t ready to take care of a child and makes some bad choices. Her character is also sprinkled with fun details (like her
toy collectible collection). Allison Williams (Get Out) infuses Gemma with both strength and vulnerability, which makes her an interesting lead.
Second, the script wisely slow-plays the plot. M3GAN seems pretty awesome, until slowly she doesn’t. However, each time she inches in that direction, it is understandable given the instructions she is given. The plot made me think of Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics and any time a movie can make me ponder one of the great science fiction writers of all time, it is doing something right (as an aside, if you haven’t read Isaac Asimov, you should). Also, the script is surprisingly funny, though M3GAN is not a comedy.
Third, the movie largely eschews the blood and guts that horror movies tend to rely on for shock value. For the first two thirds of the movie, the direction shows surprising restraint with much of the mayhem occurring just off camera. This is always welcome because what your mind fills in is always worse than what they can show on screen. It also keeps the focus on the creepy M3GAN doll, which is just lifelike enough to make you uneasy. Unlike Child’s Play, which mined the fact that Chucky looks cute but is a murderer, M3GAN manages to look creepy while still feeling like it could be a child’s toy.
M3GAN doesn’t bring too many surprises to the genre, but like the Invisible Man (which was completely spoiled by the trailer), it is well made enough to get you to invest even if you know where it is going. M3GAN succeeds on the back of its strong robot design and a great performance from Williams. The movie even manages to pose some bigger questions that might get you thinking.
If you’d like to hear my podcast review of M3GAN here is my Through the Lens review: https://anchor.fm/darren-shulman/episodes/M3GAN-Review-e1s999v
Final Score: 7.75/10
M3GAN is now in theaters.
Have you seen it already? Do you plan to? Chat with us in the comments section below or on our Twitter at @TheConCollectve.