Review by Sean Boelman
A horror movie on the first weekend of January used to be a bad thing — a throwaway film when multiplexes were waiting for the expansion of awards contenders and holding onto holiday blockbusters. But recent years have seen that curse be lifted, and the new Blumhouse picture M3GAN is no exception — already one of the best horror movies of the year.
The movie follows a toy developer who, after the death of her sister, takes in her niece and introduces her to her newest creation: a life-like AI doll designed to protect her from any and all harm. Of course, as one would expect from a premise like that, things do not go according to plan, and the results are quite entertaining.
The trailer cued audiences into the campiness of the film, but it didn’t quite sell how downright hilarious it is. The filmmakers lean hard into the premise’s absurdity, creating plenty of situations that are absolutely hilarious. When the movie devolves into absolute mayhem in the second and third acts, it’s with tongue firmly in cheek.
That being said, director Gerard Johnstone proved with his feature debut — the New Zealander horror-comedy Housebound — that he was great at blending comedy with genuine horror, and the same is true here. Although the “scary” sequences are few and far between, you better bet that those portions which are meant to be spooky are downright suspenseful.
The film engages with its themes a lot more than most studio horror flicks, but it doesn’t do so particularly subtly. It’s very on-the-nose in how it explores the increasingly dominant role that technology plays in our daily lives, and while it doesn’t outright state its anti-consumerist messages — it’s not quiet about them either.
Admittedly, the character development in the movie could have used a bit more depth. The script is heavily reliant on the orphan trope, and from an emotional standpoint, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The side characters — like the protagonist’s coworkers or her grumpy neighbor — also aren’t particularly memorable, making the horror sequences involving them somewhat less effective.
The weakest aspect of the film is its acting. Allison Williams comes across as strangely unlikable in her role — perhaps she’s better suited to more duplicitous characters like her one in Get Out. Young actress Violet McGraw’s performance is also lacking, but she’s young and has time to grow. The only standouts are Amie Donald and Jenna Davis, playing the body and voice of the titular android, respectively, in an absolutely devilish way.
With some better acting and character development, M3GAN had the potential to be one of the best horror-comedies of all time. Even so, sharp dialogue, strong execution, and a killer premise allow this to be an all-around good time at the movies and a fantastic way to kick off 2023 cinema.
M3GAN opens in theaters on January 6.
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