The opening scene of Gerard Johnstone's new film M3GAN is about as routine as horror films get. A family is driving in an obscenely bad blizzard. The daughter, Cady (Violet McGraw), is in the back seat playing with an annoying toy pet when a snow plow crashes into them killing her parents. Thankfully M3GAN moves beyond this trope into weirder, campier territory.
Cady is sent to live with her Aunt Gemma (Alison Williams), a toy designer and roboticist who has been working in secret on the Model 3 Generation Android or M3GAN (voiced by Jenna Davis). Gemma is ill-equipped to take care of Cady so soon decides that her robot doll can do the job for her. The film is rather blunt about the social commentary on how technology can distract us from processing grief in a healthy manner.
Gemma is using this situation to test out M3GAN, a four-foot singing, dancing creepy android whose AI constantly improves itself. M3GAN is linked to Cady early on and her only goal is to protect and love Cady. This brings in some additional commentary on passing parenting off to tech. All of this plotting keeps the movie moving forward but serves more as a setup for a series of deliciously humorous scenes of a creepy killer doll.
The film will get compared to Child's Play and maybe Annabelle but this is closer to a yuppie nightmare pick than it those. There isn't a supernatural element here. The strength of M3GAN is that screenwriter Alexa Cooper and director Johnstone know the tone they are going for. They craft jump scares that elicit laughter in very intentional ways. M3GAN gets three songs and a dance number even. The blend of horror and camp becomes the film's greatest strength.
While the effect of M3GAN is completely believable and the film has lots of humorous moments, the slight drama between Gemma and Cady doesn't give the film much momentum. I found myself waiting for scenes with the creepy robot when she wasn't around. Thankfully she is featured quite a bit. One also can't help but feel that the whole film is being held back a bit by the PG-13 rating. I have to wonder how crazy M3GAN would have gotten if it was rated R. Still, the film is a fun ride and good way to kick off 2023.