It's pretty early for the new movie year to produce its first box-office banger. But "M3gan," now in theaters, delivers just the jolt of fun and fright we all need right now.
And, hey, what better way to start 2023 than with a killer robot doll rocking out in a twerking, somersaulting dance number that's become a meme for the ages since the trailer surfaced.
To get your bearings, M3GAN is an acronym for Model 3 Generative Android. She's the brainchild of toy-company roboticist Gemma, played by a sensational Allison Williams, of "Get Out" fame, with just the right notes of practicality undercut by bone-chilling alarm.
Gemma thinks she's doing the right thing by inventing M3gan as a lifelike babysitter to help parents raise their children in the form of a friend who looks, walks and talks just like them.
Gemma's boss, David (Ronny Chieng) can't wait to mass produce these robots. Bad idea.
Gemma learns the hard way when she uses M3gan as a protector for her 8-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw), whose parents -- Gemma's sister and brother-in-law -- are killed in a car crash.
Director Gerard Johnstone, working from a campy, "Black Mirror"-ish script by Akela Cooper, works hard to show that technology is no substitute for flesh-and-blood parenting.
Williams makes it clear that Auntie Gemma is not up to the job, especially dealing with the raw grief Cady is feeling about the loss of her parents. Most thrillers would simply shoot for the next jump scare, but "M3gan" digs deeper into the quicksand of child-parent relationships.
That's subtext, of course. It's the goosebumps that come first, befitting a film produced by horror maestros Jason Blum ("Insidious") and James Wan, who spawned Annabelle the killer doll in "The Conjuring" series. But Annabelle couldn't speak while M3gan can't shut up.
And she's a riot. Humor is this thriller's stealth weapon.
Creepy-cute Megan has a mouth on her when sass is called for, which is often. "You should probably run," the artificial intelligence doll tells a brat boy who bullies Cady. Wait till you see how she rips someone's ear off or comforts Cady with an OMG acapella rendition of Sia's "Titanium."
Objections have been raised against "M3gan" for its PG-13 rating, wussy stuff for those who like their horror served with a hard R. But "M3gan" is better and eerier for suggesting its terrors instead of rubbing them in our faces. It sure worked for "The Sixth Sense."
It took a village to bring M3gan to life, including puppeteers, experts in animatronics, prosthetic masks, and a knockout physical performance by newcomer Amie Donald and a matching vocal one from Jenna Davis. It all adds up to a miracle of modern horror cinema.
No fair giving away what's next in "M3gan," except to say Wan says he already has ideas for sequel. It's my hope to see M3gs take on Chucky, the devil doll from the "Child's Play" franchise.
"M3gan" sends visions devil-dancing in our heads -- and they're not of sugarplums. This psychological chiller leaves you reeling from something really scary -- the shock of recognition.