Review: ‘M3GAN’ and its take on campy horror

Title card for "M3GAN," released on Jan. 6, 2023. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Over the past few years, movie studios have attempted to capture the strange magic of campiness in horror, but rarely have they been successful. 

All of this comes from a misunderstanding surrounding “trash cinema” — a gospel that says a campy movie is a movie that is so bad, it’s good.

The best of campy movies, and other forms of supposedly lowbrow media, cannot be created through algorithms and corporate backing, but through genuine heart and care for the product. 

Malignant was one of the rare western-produced films that managed to perfectly tap into the campy genre. It was simultaneously reveling in and satirizing nearly every goofy trope in modern horror, yet playing everything straight.

It created what was possibly the perfect piece of camp art. 

While Malignant’s director, James Wan, did not direct the new M3GAN, it is still a worthy champion of the violent, dark and gleeful goofiness Malignant encapsulated. 

M3GAN opens with a fake advertisement for PerpetualPets, a brand that proudly proclaims  their toy pets are better than real pets because they don’t die and also the virtual pets fart when you feed them. 

The film is also not subtle in its jokes about iPad babies and neglectful parents. The entire 102 minutes feel like an elongated I Think You Should Leave sketch. Every joke is played completely straight, yet the increasing surrealism and absurdity of the situation makes it all come across as hilarious. 

Even a scene where a child cries over the death of her parents had the entire theatre cackling. 

Watching M3GAN make AI artwork, kill children and sing “Titanium” back-to-back-to-back creates a non-stop thrill ride through an unhinged dip into internet culture.

Over the winter break I had the absolute pleasure of watching the MVP: Most Valuable Primate series. It’s one of those cheap, direct-to-video-type movies where a child, but sometimes an adult, befriends some animal or strange creature and hilarity and “heartwarmingness” ensue. 

M3GAN is reminiscent of those kinds of movies; Flubber, Air Bud, Marmaduke. Mixing this style with not-so-subtle social satire and campy violence is what makes M3GAN such a fun time. 

However, there is one issue with the film. While it isn’t enough to ruin the film entirely,  it is a minor annoyance and that’s the film’s rating.

Originally M3GAN was, much like Malignant, slated to be released with an R rating. Once the trailer blew up on TikTok, producers decided that selling the film to a younger generation would yield greater profits. 

This, on its own, is irritating to those who like a bit more brutality to spice up their horror. However the real annoyance comes with the fact that the film was specifically marketed as a follow up to Malignant, a film known for its over the top, impossibly goofy and gory violence. 

This wasn’t a make or break issue for the film as it has lots of entertainment value thanks to its razor sharp sense of humor, but it was a disappointment.

M3GAN is funny, really funny. Every single line and music cue feels like an expertly crafted gag, yet, it never becomes obnoxious. It never talks down to its audience or overly explains the joke.

It’s so committed to the bit that it stays funny and fascinating for its entire runtime, and much like M3gan herself, it’s very confident in its own voice.