‘M3GAN’ Review: Reminder that Dolls and A.I. Are Still Creepy

Between this and “Barbie,” 2023 is about to be the year of the talking doll.

“M3GAN” follows a young roboticist (Allison Williams) who creates an animatronic doll (portrayed by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis) to bond with her recently-orphaned niece (Violet McGraw), only for strange things to start happening. Gerard Johnstone directs while James Wan and Jason Blum produce.

The trailer for “M3GAN” played before most every movie for months, and it looked bonkers. Maybe it would be a perfect horror-comedy, perhaps a trashterpiece, but a killer doll doing a TikTok dance while chasing a person with a blade had to be at least fun, right? Well, “M3GAN” isn’t the next cult classic but it does have enough comedy, creepiness, and kills to work (though maybe not as much as some may like).

Horror-comedies are one of my favorite sub-genres, films like “The Babysitter,” “Happy Death Day,” and “Freaky” are such fun watches. “M3GAN” (which stands for Model 3 Generative Android) has some very funny moments, and overall a fairly light tone given its genre/storyline. There is something inherently creepy about AI and robots in both films and real life, so having a bug-eyed little girl walking around hallways, staring down strangers, and sitting quietly in the corner does give some scenes an unnerving sense. The different genres don’t always gel perfectly (it’s a scene-by-scene basis), but there are a few times I laughed amid a scary sequence. With a producer/co-writer like James Wan, you expect some spooky yet silly stuff, as we saw with his “Malignant,” and we get hints of that energy here and there.

As Cady, a nine-year-old who recently lost her parents in an accident, Violet McGraw turns in a solid performance. Child actors are hit-and-miss, but there is something about horror films that bring out the best in kids more often than other genres (Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” and Isabelle Fuhrman in “Orphan,” to name two). She has some scenes of genuine emotional acting that don’t feel cringy or forced, and she plays well off both Allison Williams as her aunt and Amie Donald’s M3GAN.

“M3GAN” plays like a combination of “Orphan,” “Child’s Play,” and “Ex Machina,” and is itself just one of those films that you can feel teetering on something really good but can’t quite break the ceiling. The filmmakers reshot and reedited several scenes in order to attain a PG-13 rating for theaters but have teased plans to possibly release an unrated cut of the film with more kills and blood on home media. We’ll see if that ever comes to fruition but as far as what we got, the kills are moderately violent for PG-13, including one that I was surprised they actually got away with. It may not be enough to feed the bloodlust of some genre enthusiasts, but I do think the film gives us enough violence to stave off major complaints.

“M3GAN” isn’t as much fun as its trailer and premise suggest it could have been, but there are enough clever or amusing moments to make it worth the ride. I wish I liked it just a tad bit more, but if that unrated version does ever see the light of day I’ll rewatch this as part of Spooky Season one day. It’s a fun time at the theaters nevertheless, especially a full auditorium like mine, and better than the standard January horror fare we’ve historically gotten. Hopefully when “M3GAN 2” comes out (because, to quote Matthew Lillard in “Scream,” let’s face it, these days you gotta have a sequel) they will learn from audiences’ responses, and possibly give the TikTok generation its own Chucky.

Critics Rating: 6/10

Universal Pictures

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