I’m “M3GAN,” and I’m your friend till the end!

Johnstone’s 2022 sci-fi horror movie, like the titular doll, kills … for the most part

“M3GAN” is a 2022 sci-fi horror film from director Gerard Johnstone (“Housebound”). The movie follows a roboticist named Gemma (Allison Williams, “Get Out”) who, after tragedy strikes, is forced to take care of her young niece Cady (Violet McGraw, Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House”). Due to her not being able to maintain her work-life balance, she gives Cady a prototype of M3GAN, an android meant to be a child’s best friend. Unfortunately, as time goes on, M3GAN’s bond with Cady grows so strong that she resorts to violence to protect her best friend. This premise may remind people of the “Chucky” franchise, but “M3GAN” is a different beast entirely, replacing a voodoo-obsessed serial killer with defective artificial intelligence (which is also the premise of the “Child’s Play” remake).

While this normally wouldn’t be my kind of horror film, I was fascinated by the fact that this was written by Akela Cooper and horror legend James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”). This is their second collaboration after the charmingly nonsensical film “Malignant.” In spite of “Malignant”’s silly script, Wan’s directing style elevated it into one of my favorite horror movies of recent years. Because of this, I went into “M3GAN” with pretty high expectations. While I ultimately enjoyed the film, it wasn’t exactly what I was anticipating.

For starters, the PG-13 rating was pretty disappointing, especially since one of “Malignant”’s biggest strengths was its over-the-top gore. I appreciate that the producers wanted “M3GAN” to appeal to a broader audience, but I feel like it would have been more entertaining with a sense of brutality. Shortly before watching the film, I discovered that the filmmakers cut out some violent content to get a lower rating, and Cooper stated that an unrated cut of the film could drop on home media. So here’s hoping for some fun, “Chucky”-esque gore.

Another criticism I have of the film is its directing. I mean no disrespect to Johnstone, but “M3GAN” doesn’t seem very creative in terms of its visual feel. It left me thinking of Wan’s creative directing in “Malignant” and how this film could have been more stylish if he had directed this film. Instead, the movie that we got feels clinical and visually cold. This could be an intentional choice made by Johnstone, but I can’t say for sure whether or not this was the case as I haven’t seen his previous work.

While these elements hold the film back for me, I still had a pretty good time. The tone, while inconsistent, was fairly entertaining. The first scene makes it abundantly clear that the film is trying to satirize the tech industry as well as the effect that technology has on society … just ignore that this sounds exactly like “Black Mirror.” This movie lacks any subtlety whatsoever, but thankfully “M3GAN” is more of a comedy than a horror film. While this comedic approach does work, I wish that the screenplay had fewer jokes. “Malignant”’s tone worked so well because it played its nonsensical story pretty straight while still being a silly horror movie. The film also had some jokes, but the movie was at its best when it was relying on its absurdity, and the same goes for “M3GAN.” The scene of M3GAN putting Cady to sleep by singing a David Guetta song was particularly funny, as was her iconic dance later in the movie. The final act is full of these sequences, but the jokes felt inconsistent. This complaint is definitely a personal thing, so it may differ from viewer to viewer, but it did affect my experience.

The performances are, as a whole, perfectly fine. McGraw did a good job, but Williams felt held back. Stand-up comedian Ronny Chieng, who plays a generic tech CEO, wasn’t particularly convincing, but he did get a few laughs out of me. The best performances were easily from Amie Donald and Jenna Davis, who are the physical and voice actors of M3GAN, respectively.

While Donald perfectly sells the uncanny and robotic movements of the character, Davis’ voice is very unsettling while also having a solid personality to it. The character is really entertaining, and both of these actresses are a big part of that.

Overall, I found “M3GAN” to be an entertaining horror-comedy film, even if I had a lot of criticisms. While I appreciated the more goofy moments, the film would have been better with an R-rating, a different director and a more consistent tone. I’d still recommend it, but keep your expectations low.

RATING: 6/10