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‘M3GAN’ Is a Campy, Crowd-Pleasing B-Movie

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A queen named M3GAN watching out the window

You’ve seen her on TikTok, you’ve seen her beefing with Chucky on Twitter, and now you get to see her on the big screen. After a successful viral marketing campaign, M3GAN is finally in theaters. Admittedly, the film doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of new horror stories or even clever kills—but that hardly matters because this Chucky-meets-AI PG-13 horror flick has more than enough ridiculous, self-aware comedy to leave eager viewers more than satisfied.

Starring Allison Williams and Violet McGraw, M3GAN follows eight-year-old Cady (McGraw), whose life is upended when her parents are both killed in a car crash. She’s put in the custody of her aunt Gemma (Williams), whose solitary lifestyle and preoccupation with work make her a less-than-ideal guardian. Painfully aware of how ill-equipped she is to be parenting a still-grieving Cady, Gemma has an idea: Give Cady the prototype doll M3GAN, which will serve as a confidant for Cady and a beta-testing subject for Gemma. Though Cady quickly takes to M3GAN, a series of increasingly suspicious and deadly accidents have Gemma questioning her decision to give her niece the doll. The movie quickly becomes a race against time for Gemma to find a way to deactivate M3GAN and put an end to her pint-sized reign of terror.

Paradoxically, M3GAN is a film that’s more than willing to overindulge in the ridiculousness of its premise, yet remains frustratingly restrained in the violence department. If you’re expecting the kind of uber-violent kills teased in the trailer, you’ll likely leave disappointed. In fact, the trailer spoils virtually all of the film’s most frightening moments. Coupled with a PG-13 rating, there isn’t much wiggle room for director Gerard Johnstone to get creative or graphic with his kill scenes.

This lack of gore often makes M3GAN feel like a pared down, sanitized version of a more effective horror film, but given just how successful the film’s comedic elements are, it’s hard to care all that much about the lack of violence by the time the credits start rolling. There’s no question about it: As the title implies, M3GAN herself is absolutely the star of the show, and the film seems very aware of the kind of endlessly meme-able killer it has on its hands.

M3GAN is played by two young actresses—Jenna Davis (who you may recognize from the viral “Penny Nickel Dime” video) provides her voice, while nine-year-old dancer Amie Donald brings M3GAN to life physically. Though it wouldn’t be quite right to call M3GAN a scene-stealer (she is, after all, the eponymous character), it’s difficult overstate how mesmerizing her presence is onscreen. If M3GAN is in a scene, it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off of her. Davis’ voice acting combined with Akela Cooper’s dialogue makes for a joyful spectacle; a sweet little girl spewing insults and threatening murder is as entertaining as it is absurd.

The film’s particular brand of humor is what makes it so memorable (and so popular online)—from her spontaneous hallway dance to tense, coy conversations with Gemma, M3GAN prompts the kind of disbelieving, nervous laughter that leaves the audience unsure of whether they’d be scared or delighted to meet M3GAN in person. Again, it’s worth mentioning how pared down the film feels, and though the violence is the primary victim of this problem, one can imagine that an R-rated cut of M3GAN would also allow for even more memorable moments and dialogue.

As for the film’s more strait-laced dramatic elements, Williams and McGraw do an admirable job of bringing emotion and genuine tragedy to an arc that could have easily felt cheap or shoehorned in. It’s not an admirable task to play the straight man to M3GAN’s murderous antics, but both Gemma and Cady are remarkably multi-faceted and flawed characters. The film’s depiction of Gemma as a well-intentioned but misguided caretaker is a compelling and refreshing approach to the conventional horror heroine, and young Violet McGraw plays her many heartbreaking scenes with ferocious depth.

When push comes to shove, though, audiences aren’t showing up to the theatre for a rumination on loss and the growing impact of technology in parenting. They’re there to see a robotic eight-year-old wreak some havoc. While both the campy comedy and kill sequences likely would’ve benefited from an R-rating, M3GAN‘s commitment to the bit and leading performances make it a crowd-pleasing B-movie that will likely find a diehard following in years to come.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)

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Lauren Coates is a film and Chicago-based student with a weakness for junk food, a passion for film & television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates and read more of her work on Culturess.