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Gerard Johnstone's 'M3GAN': Androids are a Girl's Best Friend

M3GAN and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN

M3GAN is the only friend you'll ever need. Directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound), with screenplay by Malignant writer Akela Cooper, this creepy doll movie offers the perfect thaw to those who need a break from the frostbite of stuffy award season fare. With light scares, madcap humor, and a wardrobe to kill, M3GAN will make you bust a grin and a move.

Timing matters when it comes to box office success, andM3GAN is the perfect horror film for winter sweater weather. Landing at the convergence of the post-holiday blues and pre-award season, M3GAN fits the bill for a mindless crowd pleaser that even fair weather horror fans will enjoy.

After her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash, roboticist for Funki high-tech toys Gemma (Allison Williams) feels woefully inadequate to serve as guardian to her newly orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw). Simultaneously, Gemma's frustrated that her boss David Lin (Ronny Chieng) doesn't believe in her vision to create a companion android for a child. But with Cady in desperate need of attention, Gemma decides to impress her boss and supplement her bandwidth for parenting by pairing Cady with her M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android) prototype. All seems well until Gemma realizes that M3GAN's influence over Cady supersedes her own.

M3GAN performs an impressive balancing act and achieves that hard-to-define "just right" tone that will appeal to many audiences. Creepy and disturbing without being gory or violent, parents of thrill-seeking tweens and teens may even feel comfortable sending their kids to the theater for this one. Also, the campy cackle-worthy humor happens in conjunction with light but socially relevant themes about the dangers of overreliance on technology. When it comes to forming emotional attachments, there is no substitute for human connection – a statement made implicitly yet clearly in the cautionary tale laid before our eyes. Basically, M3GAN would feel right at home as a Black Mirror bonus movie with an extra layer of absurdity. Go with a crowd to enjoy the howls of laughter sure to follow every dance scene, musical number, and commercial that M3GAN serves up.

L-R: CADY (Violet McGraw), M3GAN, and GEMMA (Allison Williams) in M3GAN
Akela Cooper turns in a thoughtfully crafted and well-paced screenplay. Our sympathy for Cady bonds us to her, and she thrives under M3GAN's strict but warm tutelage. The transition from heartwarming to hair-raising occurs seamlessly and realistically. And all the plot points that occur tie together nicely by the end.

While acting takes a back seat to the wacky tone and on-screen antics of this comedy horror, the performers deliver a solid A-game. Allison Williams' (Get Out) Gemma plays a talented but distracted inventor. She's occupied with her career and not used to caretaking. Violet McGraw has been putting forth intriguing child performances in horror since her work as Young Nell in Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House. She's sweet, vulnerable, and headstrong all at once. The movie doesn't work unless we sympathize with her. Comedian Ronny Chieng is pitch-perfect as the demanding boss and makes great use of his screen time. But the absolute stand-out is the combined talent behind the character of M3GAN herself. With Jenna Davis as the voice and Amie Donald doing the physical acting, M3GAN is a fully realized diva of a doll that has it all – fashion, flair, intellect, and artificial emotional intelligence. As a well-programmed machine, she follows her assignments to the letter, but she evolves, recalibrates, and finds loopholes that make her as frightening an adversary as 2001's HAL.

L-R: M3GAN, GEMMA (Allison Williams), and CADY (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN

While it's unclear whether M3GAN will join the ranks of horror's most memorable dolls, her stylings make her the It girl for now, and her place on my best horror of 2023 is solid. 

Release info: In theater January 6, 2023

Final score: 4 out of 5