Review: ‘M3GAN’ balances elements of horror and serious themes with comedy

Laura Emde, news staff

When it comes to promoting a movie, most studios do not use eight girls dressed as the main character dancing at an NFL game. Unless it’s “M3GAN,” of course.

Gerard Johnstone’s 2022 horror film “M3GAN” achieved surprising box office success following its Jan. 6 release after a creative promotional campaign that took the saying “go big or go home” to heart. The campaign included a tour of New York City, a trailer wherein M3GAN dances before a violent rampage and videos ads specifically for a Bad Bunny music video.

The film depicts a young woman named Gemma (Allison Williams), an engineer at a toy company who recently gained custody of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) following her parents’ tragic death in a car accident. In order to both cheer up Cady and prove herself to her boss, Gemma programs her newest toy, M3GAN, to protect Cady and provide her with companionship.

The comedy utilized in the promotions translates into the film itself. One such humorous moment comes about halfway through the film, after M3GAN attacks a boy harassing Cady and sends him rolling down a hill — and into oncoming traffic. Cady is upset by this, and in an attempt to comfort her, M3GAN decides to serenade her with a lullaby version of “Titanium” by David Guetta and Sia. 

The random song choice sent audiences in fits of laughter, because truthfully, did anyone expect the murderous doll to burst out into song? 

However, the choice to have M3GAN sing “Titanium” is a strong one, as many of the lyrics in the song reflect M3GAN’s one purpose in life — to protect Cady. By being “bulletproof,” she wouldn’t let anything harmful reach Cady. The lyrics “shoot me down, but I won’t fall,” are a playful hint to the ending of the film, when Gemma and Cady struggle to destroy M3GAN and permanently shut her down.

Nevertheless, “M3GAN” is still a horror film at its core, even with its outlandish and amusing scenes. 

M3GAN’s design alone is enough to warrant this classification.  Although she is a doll, her face and movements emulate a human child, and the eerie combination of toy and person gives the titular character an “uncanny valley” effect that is unsettling to viewers. This was likely intentional, considering M3GAN was brought to life using both puppets and a child actor

The film also has traditional elements of horror like suspense. At multiple points in the film, a character is walking alone in the dark and viewers are left to wonder when the bloodthirsty android in a wig will attack. There is a bit of gore in the film, as M3GAN — quite literally — rips off someone’s ear. For those with a weaker stomach, this might be the time to look away from the screen.

However, many critics of the film have expressed their disappointment with the lack of gore in the film, as much of it was cut so the film earned a PG-13 rating as opposed to R. The gore that remains is still enough to invoke fear in viewers and get the point across that this little doll is out for blood. Removing violent scenes for a PG-13 rating meant that M3GAN was accessible to a wider range of audiences, which increased its ticketing sales.

Underneath the meme-ification and horror of the film, “M3GAN” also deals with serious topics, such as grief and how to cope with it. After her parents’ deaths, Cady misses the relationship she had with her parents and the safety that came with it, and attempts to replicate that with M3GAN. As M3GAN’s only objective in life is to keep Cady safe, in a way, she is filling a void that was left after the car accident.

Gemma is also coping with the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law by avoiding the negative feelings that come with it. She does whatever she can to make both Cady and herself happy, which ultimately connects to M3GAN — Cady becomes happy once she finds a friend in M3GAN, which in turn lifts Gemma’s spirits. 

The film makes a point of demonstrating that neither of these coping mechanisms are necessarily healthy through a scene in the third act of the film where Gemma takes M3GAN away after the doll kills their neighbor. Cady’s reaction is emotional and somewhat violent, kicking Gemma’s seat as she drives and begging to know where M3GAN is. Gemma realizes avoiding the negative emotions that come with death is not the way to cope, and that Cady’s attachment to M3GAN is ultimately harming her more than it is helping her. 

“M3GAN” proves that horror films can successfully challenge the traditional concept of a horror genre by adding in elements of comedy and drama, and hopefully it will pave the way for future thrillers to break the mold.