M3GAN Review: This Is No Child’s Play

Welcome to the January doldrums, readers. As Avatar: The Way of Water continues its onslaught of the box office, movie studios reset the calendar. With the Oscar hopefuls of December passed, we move toward the cinematic wasteland where studios dump films whose prospects are uncertain. Sometimes it works (Split, Taken), and sometimes it fails spectacularly (Meet the Spartans). Blumhouse is taking a chance that M3GAN, with little competition and a bonkers premise, will clean up on opening weekend.

The choice is not much of a risk, honestly. Teaming Blumhouse with producer James Wan (The Conjuring) for a film about a killer doll feels like the perfect call. Wan loves creepy dolls so much he uses the name as his handle on social media sites. Oddly enough, Wan  never made a movie about killer dolls, only possessed ones. M3GAN isn’t a haunted doll, though. Think of the titular character as Chucky, but with the ruthless efficiency of a Terminator instead of a serial killer’s soul.

When Cady’s (Violet McGraw) parents die in a tragic car accident, her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes a parent. Gemma is a gifted engineer, but she’s not suited to raise a child. Enter M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), a prototype best friend doll created by Gemma and her colleagues, Tess Cole (Jen Van Epps) and Brian (Jordan Alvarez). Frustrated by the growing distance between her and her increasingly isolated niece, Gemma tests M3GAN by bonding with Cady. Overnight, Cady’s issues seem to fade away. M3GAN becomes the confidante to Cady that Gemma cannot be, but the doll’s protective nature works perhaps too well. Once M3GAN gets introduced to bullying, she learns innovative (and terrifying) ways to protect her best friend.

Which brings the audience to ask, who didn’t see this coming? One of the most reliable horror plots is the fallibility of gifted scientists. Gemma takes an android, imbues it with human emotions and frailty, only to shout, “I didn’t know what would happen” later. Designed to protect a recently orphaned girl, especially one getting bullied, it’s not surprising that M3GAN boxes a kid’s ear for terrorizing Cady. M3GAN can do all the bonding things that Gemma needs, but she’s also capable of doing things that Gemma can’t do. As a responsible adult, Gemma can’t physically intimidate Brandon (Jack Cassidy), yet M3GAN can.


Imagine the scene in Tár where Cate Blanchett warns her daughter’s bully about the consequences of violence. Now imagine it with Lydia Tár roundhouse-kicking the girl and dancing away. That’s M3GAN. If that sounds strange, don’t fret. The comedy in the film is intentional. 

M3GAN touts its connection to Wan in its marketing, but the director is Gerard Johnstone (check out his 2014 feature, Housebound). Housebound took a creepy old house and pulled the rug out from under the viewer at every opportunity. The director is up to his old tricks here too. If a moment gets tense, Johnstone traffics in comedy when the story calls for it. The sight of M3GAN dancing or running like a bear through the woods while hunting Cady’s bullies is enough to make a viewer bust out laughing, although the film is well aware of the inherent camp. The scene that took over TikTok was, apparently, “one of those crazy, sleep-deprived, 3 a.m. thoughts,” Johnstone says.

Like MalignantM3GAN is a tonal hybrid that dabbles in genre tropes but is unafraid to have M3GAN bust a move to a Sia needle drop. Unlike Malignant, the third act is tamer than expected. Whether due to the brunt of violence against children or trying to preserve the comedic tone, M3GAN plays it safe. No bloodletting. Part of that is due to the PG-13 rating. Although, it’s possibly less about corporate notes than the logical destructive power of one four-foot-tall android. But that is the biggest knock against M3GAN. It feels like it could go bolder, go darker, but then never does. The end product feels tamer as a result.

Allison Williams returns to the Blumhouse universe with panache, aptly portraying the grief and the rage required for her part as Gemma. Violet McGraw also holds her own as the orphan torn between the android she’s grown to care for and her aunt, who doesn’t know better. When the film dips its toes into social commentary—specifically, about over-reliance on technology as a substitution for social interaction in mental health—Williams and McGraw make sure the turn doesn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. Props to the combo of Jenna Davis (voice work) and Amie Donald, who fully realize M3GAN as a character. The film would not succeed without them. Characters outside of Gemma, Cady, and M3GAN are underdeveloped, intimating early on who will be body count fodder.


M3GAN isn’t the gritty splatterfest that horror purists want, though it will draw enough viewers to have crossover appeal. Audiences willing to indulge in the camp will have a blast. Isn’t that all we’re asking from January releases? For some fun? 

M3GAN is as-advertised horror for the Zoomer generation. The Annabelle doll doesn’t have a personality to market, audience members pulled for M3GAN from the beginning in a way you don’t see with other horror antagonists. M3GAN isn’t evil, the threats to Cady just make her overly protective. And who hasn’t been there? M3GAN will definitely spawn a franchise. Just one of many Wan has overseen through the years.


M3GAN opens in theatres on January 6.