It’s a pretty common assumption that any film released in January and February is a studio dump; duds that that have sat on the shelf for ages that need to get put out to general audiences to clear the cache and get those sweet, sweet tax write offs. Most the time you’d be right, but horror-adjacent “M3GAN” arrives as the first wide theatrical release of 2023, and is here to slay. Literally.
She’s the murder bot you didn’t know you needed, and singlehandedly pushes away the January dud stigma. Anything from Blumhouse has become into a rather safe bet, and “M3GAN” only solidifies the return on investment. Campy yet balanced and laugh out loud funny (intentionally and sometimes unintentionally), the film is simply a blast. It’s dastardly devious, and while it may not be breaking any new ground in its own genre, “M3GAN” is so damn entertaining that that doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Directed by Gerard Johnstone from a screenplay by Akela Cooper (“Malignant“), “M3GAN” stars Allison Willians, Violet Mcgraw, Amie Donald, and Jenna Davis as Megan’s voice. After losing both of her parents in a car crash, young Cady (Mcgraw) is sent to live with her aunt Gemma (Williams). Gemma is not a parent despite being the head engineer at a major toy manufacturer, so to cope she decides to move forward with her new, unauthorized passion project Megan, short for Model 3 Generative Android. Megan is a revelation in AI, and after pairing with Cady they become inseparable. Megan fills every need Cady could ever want in the wake of her tragedy, ostensibly replacing the need for Gemma altogether in terms of care and connection. Of course, the trust in machines only leads to danger, and as the bond between Megan and Cady grows, so does Megan’s abilities, learning, and malevolent intent all in the name of keeping Cady from harm.
If all of that sounds rather familiar, that’s because it is. This is essentially the new warning label for “AI is bad and will surely kill us all, and our reliance on technology will be our downfall” and while that isn’t necessarily original, the film manages to add a few more layers pertaining to grief, loss, parenting, and technology reliance among youth. And it does all of this with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, fully aware of its own satirical, builtin framework and leaning into it as hard as it can. This is a smart move from both Cooper and Johnstone, who know full well this isn’t “Ex-Machina” level commentary. It’s all there on the surface, but despite the narrative having something to say of its themes, that’s not why we’re here for it. We’re here to watch Megan dance and murder or murder and dance, whatever order Megan chooses. The thematic elements, though vital to the core of the narrative are secondary to the film’s absurdity. “M3GAN” may have something to say, but it also knows that’s not why you bought your ticket and playfully dials up the silliness to delightful, devious enjoyment.
Though horror has been on a high in the last year or so, it’s been a while since we’ve had a new horror icon, the kind that makes you root for the villain even when you know you shouldn’t. The kind that you can’t wait to see again in a different iteration, facing off against new heroes who will of course win in the end but it’s damn fun to watch the slasher dispatch the expendables. Donald’s physicality and Davis’ incredible voice talent make M3GAN a true, new icon in the world of horror. Paired with some striking makeup effects from Adrien Morot and Kathy Tse of Morot FX Studio, she truly comes to life in some chilling and hilarious ways. Even something as simple as her eyes moving sharply or tilting her head incredulously or delivering her creepy robot smile, Megan is a murder bot you didn’t know you needed but simply can’t get enough of. Davis’ voice work sports some terrific comedic timing, with line drops delivered with the near emotionless robot doll face that produces genuine belly laughs.
And that’s probably the biggest takeaway as a film: it’s a comedy horror, not a horror comedy. That may seem like splitting hairs, but it clearly has no interest in being truly frightening as much as it simply wants to entertain. Trying to logic your way in or out is a disservice, because the film works best when it abandons explanations for its absurdity and just lets the cheekiness rip. It’s just downright funny, and most of the time purposefully so. And even when it’s not, it is one of those rare films that looks like it was just as much fun to make as it is to watch, so much so that even unintentional comedy transforms into a compliment of its entertainment value instead of a detriment to its overall craft. Even at her most sinister, “M3GAN” is hard not to love.
It swings wildly but finds its mark and knocks it out of the park. Though it takes some time to get going and is rather predictable from start to finish, once Megan shows up it becomes a nonstop entertainment ride that gets more and more fun the more absurd and silly it gets. “M3GAN” sets a strong tone for the year, and is easily one of the most fun times I’ve had the movies is a while. It’s the perfect popcorn flick; turn your mind off, don’t overthink it and let Megan be your friend. Blumhouse knew full well what they had, and knew even more how to market and execute the right vision. You’ll absolutely want more Megan in your life, and because of the film’s overall self awareness, penchant for comedy and smart choices to value entertainment over meaning, there is franchise just waiting to be capitalized on.
And best believe they will, with talks already being held for a possible sequel. And count me in as a paying customer. I’m all in on Megan, and down to watch as many of these as they want to make if they keep them this fun and funny.
Sign me up for “M3GAN 2: The Bot is Back.”
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“M3GAN” is currently playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.