A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Say hello to M3GAN, a child-sized, self-learning robot doll with a glitchy operating system that gives a terrifying new meaning to FATAL ERROR. If that sounds like some Bride of Chucky rip-off with an AI makeover then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. And a fair few insanely unpleasant ones too.


Gemma (Allison Williams) creates hi-tech toys for a living, and her latest project is M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android), a fully interactive, life-like doll that looks like a manga school girl who’s crawled out of the uncanny valley. M3GAN is designed to bond with a child, and to protect them and guide them, like a robot nanny in the guise of a playmate. Or a surrogate parent.

So when workaholic Gemma becomes the reluctant guardian to her niece, Cady, after the child’s parents die in a road accident, she offloads parenting duties onto M3GAN. Besides, Cady and M3GAN’s growing relationship will serve as a test case that’ll look great at the swanky, prestige product’s press launch.

Problems arise, though, when Cady’s reliance on her new plastic pal proves increasingly unhealthy and M3GAN starts to interpret her programming – especially that bit about “protection” – in increasingly extreme ways.

At heart, there’s little new about M3GAN. Based on a story co-concocted by the Saw series' main orchestrator James Wan (the film comes from his Atomic Monster production company), the basic plot is as old as Frankenstein: hubristic scientist oversteps moral boundaries and creates a monster.

The film also shamelessly embraces a plethora of genre clichés with a cheery we-know-you-know abandon. The very last shot, for example, is an utterly predictable old chestnut of a final twist, but it’s more likely to make you grin than groan.

But it’s also a slick, smart and tautly directed slice of campy horror, opening with a RoboCop-style faux commercial for farting, popping “perpetual pets” that nails the film’s tonal colours to the mast. Settle in for some outrageous gore, icky deaths, bizarre song and dance routines and fun with chainsaws.

And while M3GAN hardly gets to grips with AI existentialism in the way Ex Machina did, the film does have some real emotional depth – more than you’d expect for a gonzo horror, anyway – when it comes to parenting and death.

Part of the film’s success comes from how straight both the actors and director Gerard Johnstone handle the material. Certainly, there’s a lot of bizarro stuff going on in the script, but the M3GAN cast never camp things up and Johnstone never spotlights the silliness.

M3GAN herself is often both utterly terrifying and immensely silly at the same time; you end up laughing to stop yourself wincing. It is also notable that everyone M3GAN kills is utterly odious and vile, making her less of a Damien figure and almost sympathetic at times; you practically cheer the fate she deals one bully.

While admirably lean in its storytelling, the film does rush to deliver the Grand Guignol horror moments that its lurid premise promises its target audience. As a result, M3GAN escalates from slightly creepy Barbie to psycho robot slasher in a surprisingly rapid series of steps, which is a shame as the film is at its most effectively chilling in its middle section.

The full-on, adrenalised, Terminator ending lacks the finesse of the rest of the film. It all seems a bit obvious and on-the-nose, when you’d been led to expect something a little cleverer. Perhaps something to do with a dangling industrial espionage subplot that ultimately doesn’t seem to go anywhere? Unless that’s being saved for a sequel, of course. Because you’ll definitely be left wanting more.

M3GAN is showing in UK cinemas from Friday 13th January 2023. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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