It's no secret that January is the doldrums when it comes to movies. The multiplexes are largely still playing holdovers from December or Oscar hopefuls that are finally getting a wide release. Most new releases during this time are films that aren't exactly the best in terms of quality, and are usually dumped here by studios who have little faith in them. More often than not, these films don't make much of an impact, and are quickly forgotten. However, there is usually one film each year that manages to stand out, and ends up being a decent hit. This year, that film looks to be M3GAN, a horror/comedy about a humanoid doll who is friendly at first, but becomes increasingly violent as the film goes on. It is a bit of a surprise, given that it is a bit of a strange film, but it is fully aware of what it is, and walks the line between horror and comedy quite well. This is a film where what you see is what you get, and thankfully, what we get is a fun, wild little movie that is sure to delight audiences.
Robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) works for a toy company. She enjoys her job, but she is working on a project of her own. This project is M3GAN, an android that is meant to be a companion to children and help take care of them. When her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), loses her parents in a car accident, Gemma becomes her legal guardian. Struggling to balance her job and this new responsibility, she decides to introduce her to M3GAN, and the two become friends. However, as their friendship deepens, M3GAN becomes more self-aware, and her dedication to Cady takes a murderous turn.
One of my favorite horror films from the past few years is Malignant, a bonkers romp that has a B-movie feel to it. When I found out that Akela Cooper, who wrote that film, penned the screenplay for M3GAN, my interest was certainly piqued. While this film isn't nearly as campy or as balls-to-the-wall weird as Malignant, it certainly has Cooper's innate ability to blend genres. It feels a bit restrained in terms of its violence, which is due to its PG-13 rating, which is a little disappointing because I can't help but feel it compromises Cooper's original vision a little. Despite this, the film still has a decent sense of humor, and the tenser moments still hit pretty hard. I wouldn't necessarily call the film "scary" but the horror elements do reel you in, which coupled with the sillier aspects of the film, makes for a highly enjoyable time.
The film has a sleek, modern aesthetic that fits the world of the film like a glove. So much of the film is focused innovation, as well as how advanced M3GAN is, and the production design and cinematography reflect this nicely. The production design is especially great, as the locations have an almost futuristic look to them. The use of color is also quite good, as the vibrancy of them helps the film pop a little more. The special effects aren't half bad either, as M3GAN looks rather realistic, and some of the practical effects are pretty cool too. The mix of animatronics and having an actual person portray M3GAN brings her to life so well. It helps the audience buy into the character, and she feels so real as a result.
A lot of credit is also due to Amie Donald, who did all of the physical movement for the M3GAN character and performed her own stunts. The physicalization of the character is what makes her, as it feels robotic in some moments, yet rather fluid and advanced in others. It is quite impressive, and is so integral to making the character, and the film as a whole work as well as it does. I was also impressed by Violet McGraw, who gives a pretty good child performance here. The character is a bit standard, but McGraw feels so genuine that it feels like she's just a regular kid for much of the film. She gets her moments to go big, but she handles the quieter moments rather well. The real MVP, however, is Allison Williams, who is truly great in this film. You can feel the drive that she has all throughout the film, and what she does when she must reckon with the consequences of creating M3GAN is quite compelling. I feel like Williams has never gotten her due, as she has proven herself talented over the years, but hopefully this film will finally have people noticing her a little more.
My only real issue with the film is that it feels like it is holding back quite a bit. I know that a lot of it is because Universal wanted it to have a PG-13 rating, but even then, it feels like the film plays it a little safe for the most part. While I wish that it would have taken more chances, I must say that the restraint at least makes the film a little more accessible to a wider audience. And considering that this is an original film, I'm all for more people seeing and supporting it. I wish that the film didn't have to sacrifice how intense it was originally going to be, but if it means more people get to see it, I can't be too upset about it.
M3GAN is pretty straightforward, and is more or less what you would expect, but it is still incredibly fun. It balances both horror and comedy so well, and it is one of the more engaging studio horror films I've seen in recent memory. The film has already become successful, and at the time of writing, a sequel has just been greenlit. It's nice to see an original film doing so well with critics and audiences alike, and I look forward to seeing the sequel when it comes out. This is the type of January release I love to see: a fun movie that becomes a bigger hit than expected, and feels unique and exciting all the same. It may play things a little safe, but it is still one of the more entertaining studio horror films I've seen in a while.