Singing and dancing her way to the first major release in a normally ghost town month for films is an unexpected doll (no pun intended) M3GAN, or Model 3 Generative Android. With the calendar turning over from December to January, the month rarely has filmgoers excited as its more of a wasteland where films go to die, never standing a chance to make a significant splash the way other months have the privilege of. However, with Jason Blum and James Wan, the latter coming up with the story alongside screenwriter Akela Cooper, M3GAN drew interest from an outstanding marketing campaign.
Another more recent but memorable marketing campaign that totally sold the film was Smile – a horror film that the studio placed random people at playoff baseball games and simply gave the signature sinister smile directly into the camera while they stood behind Homeplate. Simple but effective. What girl wouldn’t want to learn M3GAN’s stylish dance moves or pattern their wardrobe after the increasingly advanced android. And that is exactly what blew up on social media making M3GAN an anticipated destination to escape the cold weather. Like many blockbusters, M3GAN benefits the most in a crowded theater where the energy to see the android is cranked to an unreasonable but exciting level.
Both the thrills, chills, and the comedic moments will have the crowds reacting in unison – proving the power of a theatrical experience a film can generate. My crowd certainly showed up when the time called for it.
The story conceived by the aforementioned James Wan and Akela Cooper follows Cady(Violet McGraw) after experiencing a devastating car accident in which Cady loses both her parents. Cady’s aunt, Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant engineer who works for the toy company Funki becomes a temporary guardian for Cady while also perfecting the life sized M3GAN (Amie Donald, Jenna Davis) doll that can adapt and learn artificially. For Cady, M3GAN is the perfect companion, one that will listen to her, comfort her and protect her at all costs.
Being a Blumhouse and Atomic Monsters production, you would expect the well-handled horror elements to make its presence known throughout, however M3GAN comes in underrated at PG13 creating more questions than answers surrounding its production from well known horror experts. There is plenty of gore and the typical jump scare but it’s the comedy aspect that slightly overpowers the film when the expectation calls for a gruesome death. PG13 also halts any heavy use of foul language, only 1 F – word expletive can be used to keep the teenager friendly rating while the use blood is kept at a minimum.
There is a moment when M3GAN begins to outsmart her creator and rips an ear off in protection of Cady. Another moment shows violence with a nail gun. The pain can still felt from the viewer but how much of a difference would it have made with an R rating. Regardless, M3GAN boasts a fun time at the theater and when the comedy lands, it’s the campy jokes that make the moment that much more inappropriate for laughter.
Even with a more family friendly rating, M3GAN’s themes are prominent throughout the 102-minute runtime. Themes involving the reliance on technology as a parental method and how it impacts a child’s societal structure is touched upon frequently. Opening the film, screentime for Cady is an obsession – the need to be in front of an iPad instead of building social skills takes over. And once M3GAN becomes linked with Cady, the obsession is taken to a darker place, especially when Cady becomes too reliant on M3GAN as a parental replacement.
Another theme surrounds the advanced technology and its ability to be monitored and governed given the set of rules written into its code. With the set guidelines, M3GAN quickly evolves into something out of a nightmare. Both themes are heavily influenced and supplemented by the lighter tones in the screenplay written by Cooper who also wrote the James Wan directed Malignant. iRobot took an in depth look at the laws of robotics in which M3GAN merely scratches the surface on.
Blending themes and the various tone together, director Gerald Johnstone finds a healthy balance between he numbers. More a thriller and comedy, it’s the rating that misfires the horror designation. In the end, M3GAN can feel stitched together as a mismatch of watered-down dialogue.
As the titular character both Amie Donald and Jenna Davis shine in their shared role. The actress’ combined efforts bring M3GAN to life and make the doll standout among the other toy terrors of Annabelle and Chuckie. Davis’s voice is creepy in its one note tone and Donald’s movements are fluid and lifelike making doll feel like a human. Aside from the M3GAN actresses, Violet McGraw as Cady is a standout – she brings the pain, anger, confusion and frustration to the role that any kid would feel after losing both parents.
Ultimately, M3GAN disrupts the January lull and provides a shared experience that cannot be missed. Unlike some of the toys that came before, M3GAN stands on her own as a force of nature. Full of satire, thrilling exhilaration and social commentaries, Blumhouse and Atomic Monsters has another low budget hit on their hands. Trusting these two studio heads / producers to get the most out of their stories has revitalized a genre that was in need of the extra care and attention.
Screenplay By: Akela Cooper
Story By: James Wan & Akela Cooper
Directed By: Gerald Johnstone
Music By: Anthony Willis
Cinematography: Peter McCaffrey
Starring: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Jen Van Epps, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jack Cassidy, Ronny Chieng
Release Date: January 6, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 42 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%