A Review of M3GAN (2023)

[This review may contain spoilers]

M3GAN movie poster (2023)

“M3GAN” movie poster (2023)

Julia Alvarado, Freelance Writer

From “Child’s Play” to “Annabelle,” killer dolls never go out of style, and “M3GAN” is here to prove it.

This polished take on a classic trope follows a woman, Gemma (Allison Williams), who finds herself caring for her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), after her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Facing pressure from her boss to create an impressive new toy for their company, Gemma builds M3GAN—an advanced humanoid android built to be a perfect companion for children—who bonds with Cady and gives her a shoulder to cry on as she copes with the loss of her parents. But the rushed project quickly spirals out of control when M3GAN proves there’s nothing she wouldn’t do to protect Cady.

New Zealand screenwriter and director Gerard Johnstone entered the world of film in 2014, with “Housebound”, a horror comedy about a woman on house arrest, which was well received but ultimately made no great impact in the world of American horror cinema. However, that was not the case with “M3GAN”.

Upon the release of its first trailer in October 2022, “M3GAN” was already internet famous. Clips from the trailer of M3GAN dancing went viral on social media platforms like TikTok and immediately sparked excitement for the film. Actress Allison Williams later revealed that she and the marketing team at Universal had heavily debated whether or not to include the scene in the trailers. 

Williams told the Hollywood Reporter, “When we saw the first cut of the trailer, we were all hemming and hawing about whether or not to let the dance be out in the trailer or try to keep it as a surprise in the movie…and boy, the forces of marketing at Universal were right to keep it in the trailer, because it just helped, honestly.” 

If the oversaturation of scary doll movies has proven anything, it’s that the subgenre of killer toys is an easy thing to mess up. There’s something inherently comedic about an evil doll, and movies utilizing the trope will often make the mistake of either taking themselves way too seriously or not seriously enough—there’s a thin line between the two, and that is the exact line “M3GAN” treads. “M3GAN” leans into its comedic elements with complete sincerity, and instead of using them to make fun of itself or its audience, it uses the relief provided by these lighter scenes to further the impact of its more intense scenes. Being a PG13 movie, “M3GAN” can only do so much to shock and scare audiences, but it’s clear it makes use of every tool in its arsenal—the eerieness of a doll that’s almost human, the reality of grief and trauma in children, the way technology has the potential to overpower us in more ways that one. That kind of dichotomy is just as present in the film as it is in the trailer, and it’s clear that the trailer not only led to the immediate internet stardom of the film, but it also helped viewers properly set their expectations before seeing it.

Aside from being generally well-written and well-acted, “M3GAN” is a truly beautiful blend of practical and computer-generated effects. An animatronic puppet of M3GAN was used for dialogue and close-ups and was puppeteered using a variety of techniques, such as radio-controlled facial expressions performed by Adrien Morot and Kathy Tse of Morot FX Studio, automated lip-syncing for dialogue, and a puppeteer physically moving the animatronic’s head and body. Actress Amie Donald performed any of M3GAN’s scenes that needed physical movement the animatronic could not portray, and also performed all of her own stunt work. On set, Donald wore a silicone mask of M3GAN’s face that was later replaced by a CGI version to match the face of the animatronic. Donald’s physical performance was also altered using digital effects to appear more robotic.

“M3GAN” is a fresh take on a familiar concept, and although it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s a ton of fun, and a very good sign for 2023’s horror.

 ⅘ paws.