Long before M3GAN hit theaters, the film’s titular cyborg, who can best be described as a mashup of Renesmee from Twilight (if she was a raging sadist) and a yassified Baby Annette, became a viral sensation. Shortly after the first trailer came out, Twitter crowned the dead-eyed doll a horror icon in the way only Twitter can, and fan-cams of 2023’s new favorite Terminator girly dancing to Charli XCX’s “Hot Girl’’ began to circulate the internet a mile a minute. Now, it goes without saying that there’s a big difference between a film and its marketing campaign, but, somewhat miraculously, M3GAN manages to live up to its spectacular advertising. (Though in retrospect, this new triumph in horror camp shouldn’t be that surprising, as Malignant’s James Wan and Akela Cooper, AKA the people who gave us this scene just last year, co-wrote the film).
As far as its plot goes, M3GAN doesn’t stray too far from the tried-and-true “AI gone wrong” story format. After losing both of her parents in a tragic car accident, young Cady (Violet McGraw) moves in with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a toy company roboticist partially responsible for PurrpetualPetz: Stuffed animals that have human-like teeth and, among other things, take shits.
Realizing she is not equipped to care for a youngster, Gemma makes it her mission to finish building M3GAN—or Model 3 Generative Android—a robot designed specifically to be your child’s most loyal BFF. That’s one way to parent! If you can find it in your heart to suspend disbelief for long enough to believe that Gemma could have stolen $100k from her company for its creation without getting fired, or that she was able to build the world’s most intelligent cyborg in, more-or-less, a single montage, M3GAN kicks exhilaratingly into gear as soon as the doll first rears her unsettling little head.
At first, life with M3GAN is peachy. She manages to eradicate Cady’s grief by playing with her day in and day out, while also taking care of the nitty-gritty parenting stuff so that Gemma doesn’t have to. But as the old saying goes, “Nothing gold can stay, and little robot girls inevitably turn into sadistic, vicious killing machines.”
Soon enough, M3GAN starts to take her “protect Cady at all costs” programming a little too literally (who could’ve seen that coming?), resulting in a string of darkly comical sequences of violence—one of which may or may not involve the talking doll zealously wielding a nail gun.
This is a compelling enough premise within the AI-gone-wrong canon. But, as we all somehow knew before it even premiered, M3GAN is more than just another solid entry into this horror subgenre. I might even be so bold as to say that it is horror’s newest camp classic, and M3GAN one of the greatest horror icons of recent years.
M3GAN, somewhat miraculously, perfects the horror-comedy tone, able to consistently toe the line of too silly—from M3GAN’s passive-aggressive, condescending and sickly sweet timbre (nailed by Jenna Davis, the “penny nickel dime” girl from Vine), to her raggedy blonde wig—without ever actually crossing it. Almost everyone involved plays it straight enough that the titanium robot is literally able to sing a heartfelt lullaby version of David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium” to Cady… and it actually works. When she gets on all fours to chase a schoolboy through the woods, it’s not just laugh-out-loud funny but well-earned.
Davis isn’t the only one who unimpeachably understands the tone M3GAN sets out to convey. Recent horror icon Williams (Get Out) goes above and beyond as the film’s horrified onlooker, consistently taking the twisted little doll seriously enough that it encourages our own investment. But Williams doesn’t just succeed as a foil for the film’s antagonist—she also serves the emotional core of the film.
M3GAN isn’t just ridiculous, campy, violent fun. It also has a lot to say about human connection and the looming threats of technology in the 21st century. (I know, I know, but it’s enough of a romp that it effectively avoids being preachy.) Williams carries the weight of these deeper moments on her shoulders, delivering life lessons to her niece with enough sentimentality to pull at your heart strings—just a little—amidst the chaos. McGraw also brings a great deal to the table, walking the complicated tightrope of newfound bliss and world-shattering grief with ease.
But M3GAN’s most impressive feat, at the end of the day, is that it gives us cinematic sickos exactly what we want without sacrificing greatness in the process. And yes, what we want is a breakdancing, murderous doll. Is that such a crime?
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writers: Akela Cooper, James Wan
Stars: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronny Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps
Release Date: January 5, 2023
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.