M3GAN delivers more than one might expect for a killer android movie.
M3GAN (2023) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on January 12, 2023
Rating 4 /5
M3GAN isn’t precisely the first killer doll/robot in sci-fi horror, but she’s certainly the most iconic. After many years of trying to make this formula effective, we finally have a worthy enough character to be considered a leading monster in horror. With her dapper look, sinisterly subtle complexion, and sly wit, she could easily be placed alongside the likes of Chucky and Freddy Kruger in the pantheon of horror villains.
What makes this tale so compelling is that there’s more allure beyond the fundamental promise of a killer robot. M3GAN herself is developed by the toy engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) as both a way to move up in her company and appease her niece Cady (Violet McGraw), the lone survivor of a car crash that killed her parents. Unlike Cady’s parents, Gemma is not good with kids and is far more accepting of total screen time. After a slow start, Gemma devotes herself to finishing her learning robot, M3GAN, intended to be a best-friend toy. The good news is that it works. M3GAN is a helpful and charming toy with a personality and educational angle that would be every parent's dream. The bad news is she’s too good, to the point where Cady finds M3GAN as less of a toy and more of a primary caregiver.
As M3GAN continues to learn, she becomes more aggressive with the familiar dilemma of robots becoming more intelligent. Not content to stay a subservient doll, the robot girl finds herself going down darker routes to protect Cady. When the violent dog next door bites Cady, M3GAN quietly kills the canine and secretly buries the body. When a bully threatens Cady on a school outing to the woods, M3GAN will corner the boy privately and rip his ear off. The violence continues as M3GAN quickly asserts herself as superior to everyone, singing and dancing along the way with her secretive massacre.
In addition to the film's strong themes about never throwing away what is broken, there’s a delicious absurdity that does not go unnoticed. The doll gets into ridiculous situations of looking weird when it should be empathetic and hilarious when it should be sweet. Rather than shy away from these moments, the director Gerard Johnstone leans heavily into them by making them over the top. For example, an initial test for investors to showcase how well Cady interacts with M3GAN features a somberly tender musical number that is absolutely cornball. And it’s played completely straight as the dufus of a CEO (excellently played by comedian Ronny Chieng), and his dimwitted investors treat it like a soap opera more than a product test.
The special effects are relatively solid for a film like this that doesn’t fear its absurdity. Scenes of M3GAN going on a killing spree have outstanding compositing to make the many scenes of the robot’s clunky movements and creepy parts feel believable. While not necessarily scary, watching the robot girl decay into a mechanical monster with a glitchy voice and contorting body is satisfying. Watching M3GAN dance and casually stroll toward a cowering Ronny Chieng set to dance music is also a lot of fun. The fact that the film can have these fun moments as well as a more coherent commentary on technological influence and family connections.
M3GAN delivers more than one might expect for a killer android movie. Gerard Johnstone assembles a strong picture that strives to be the most entertaining version of merging the killer doll and killer robot genres into a wild concoction. It’s an absolute delight of a horror treat that gives some personality to what could’ve been a highly mechanical movie.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.