M3GAN (2022) Is About to Be Everyone’s New Horror Best Friend
First Non-Festival Release: December 28, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writer: Akela Cooper, James Wan
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Starring: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
With technology changing rapidly and our needs as humans evolving, it is natural to question the ethics and efficacy of the inventions we create to optimize our existence. Adults use gadgets at work and for recreation while children are growing up with an increased dependency on screens. Social moments are replaced by a need for dopamine receptors to be rewarded from completing a task in a digital planner or making it to the next level in a game.
Gemma (Allison Williams) knows this all too well. As a toy developer, she is tasked with adjusting to the ever-competitive market hoping to appeal to children’s intrinsic need to stay engaged. Unfortunately, right as she is on the cusp of finishing her latest project, her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash leaving her 8-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw) without a guardian. Gemma is revealed to be Cady’s guardian in the event of emergency, and she takes on the task quickly despite having unvoiced reservations. She finds bonding with Cady and processing the loss with her difficult until she realizes her new invention, M3GAN, might be the answer to both of their problems.
Campy horror comedy done right, M3GAN makes all the right moves in ingratiating itself with its audience.
Right off the bat, M3GAN lets viewers know that this is not a film to take seriously. The first half is filled with a wide variety of gags, much dealing with Gemma and Cady’s awkwardness and M3GAN getting accustomed to life with Cady. Gemma uses M3GAN and her love of toys to break through to Cady so she can focus on something other than her parent’s death.
In fact, the success of M3GAN rides on its quick-witted script, thanks to screenwriter Akela Cooper. Every moment of the script maximizes the hilarity of the situation. A four-foot murderous doll powered by AI is an absurd villain for horror film. It works because Cooper knows this. By focusing on M3GAN’s dark sense of humor and exploring the possibilities of robot centric carnage, Cooper injects as much fun into the narrative, making it a refreshing departure from more serious fare dominating the box office. While the horror never really hits the way it needs to, Cooper’s script and director Gerard Johnstone’s knack for comedic timing allow M3GAN to still be a light and entertaining gateway horror comedy for younger crowds.
Despite its commitment to goofiness, there is a deeper layer of nuance within the operating system of M3GAN that sheds light on deeper societal issues. Devoted to telling a story about connection, M3GAN is open about its statements against the depersonalization of intimacy. Gemma’s struggles to level with Cady about death show in her avoidance of her own problems including her unfocused approach to work and mindless swiping on dating apps. Thinking that any piece of technology could fix the missing pieces of their lives or fill the void of Cady’s parents is naive at best and immature at worst.
This is even overtly discussed in the film by the skeptical therapist, Lydia (Amy Usherwood). As Cady lashes out when she has to take breaks from M3GAN, Lydia questions Gemma’s motivation for the experiment. Unsure of the end goal and unable to answer to the query of M3GAN merely being a distraction, Gemma continues to choose avoidance even as she becomes unsure of the ramifications. Human connection is emphasized throughout M3GAN and the importance of allowing children to feel fully is imparted in its depiction of grief.
Sleek production values, very common in Blumhouse features, help M3GAN maintain a sense of authority even when things get off the rails. From its unassuming suburban Seattle setting to its grandiose toy company headquarters, M3GAN does not skimp on scale. The android herself toes the line between frighteningly realistic while still looking like something a kid would reasonably get excited to have. The minimal gore employed is done well and the general effects and camerawork work do enough to elevate the film to make it feel like a cinematic experience.
It certainly won’t be winning any awards, but M3GAN does exactly what it sets out to do. Sure, it never gets quite as scary as one may hope, but its youthful energy and adherence to camp far eclipses its need to terrify. Thanks to a strong understanding between Cooper and Johnstone, M3GAN is a heartfelt film underneath the sass and tech jargon. It never forgets its underlying story of human connection in tragedy, which makes for something far more compelling than simply a killer doll movie would otherwise accomplish. Look past its memability, and you’ll find that M3GAN is poised to become your best friend in horror this year.
Overall Score? 7.5/10