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Review: ‘M3GAN’ misfires but plays on emotion

Courtesy Universal Pictures

By Hamza Saeed     1/10/23 9:53pm

Review: ★★★

My expectations for “M3GAN” were cautiously optimistic despite its overdone premise. I thought “M3GAN” was going to be a campy horror movie with cheap jumpscares and even cheesier lines, ultimately performing within a typical January box office. Prior to booking my tickets, however, I did note that the critical reviews for the film were, shockingly, quite good. 

“M3GAN” tells the story of an advanced artificial intelligence — a lifelike doll that’s programmed to be a child’s greatest companion and the ultimate parenting tool. Designed by Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant engineer on the rise, M3GAN can listen, watch and learn as it plays the role of friend, playmate and caretaker. When Gemma becomes the unexpected guardian of her 8-year-old niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), she decides to give the girl a M3GAN prototype, a decision that leads to unforeseen consequences.

To focus on the film’s positive qualities, “M3GAN” skillfully delivers an emotional message while creating enough tension to keep viewers watching. “M3GAN” isn’t really a horror movie, but to some people, I can see it serving as an entry point into the genre. Since it is PG-13, much of the violence is toned down, but director Gerard Johnstone does a competent job at creating tension and a few silly kills. Surprisingly, the movie nails the uncanny valley look of the doll. Finally, I  appreciate how the emotional message was conveyed in a way that didn’t feel condescending to the viewer. I was touched by the message of the importance of building human relationships in a time where it is so easy to turn to technology or social media as a means of connection with other people.

However, the dialogue had some rough moments, especially in the second act. Even though it’s expectedly difficult to insert dark humor and still maintain an overall atmosphere of anticipation and anxiety, “M3GAN” had a lot of moments where I felt like hiding my face because of cringe instead of fright, which was disappointing. The characters themselves are fine for the most part. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw did a decent job portraying their respective character arcs, which horror movies don’t always prioritize. However, I constantly got the feeling that the writers couldn’t decide whether everyone was smart or dumb. There is a constant and jarring swing between the horror movie cliché of characters making seemingly random choices and in other moments having incredible foresight and complex motivations.

Despite being labeled as horror, “M3GAN” is more of a dark comedy that is goofy, a bit wacky and even zany at times. That also extends to the dialogue, the PG-13 kills and the entire premise of an A.I. murder doll itself. Should you go to see this movie? At the end of the day, it comes down to what you want out of a theater experience. This movie isn’t the type of film that leaves a lasting impression on you as you walk out of the theater, but I wouldn’t say that I wasted my two hours either. Most of my disappointment stems from the fact that I would have preferred “M3GAN” to be more horror-oriented or even a slasher-type film. Objectively, however, it is a perfectly fine movie that is worth a ticket. 

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