M3GAN Has So Much Nerve That It Doesn’t Need An R-Rating

M3GAN Has So Much Nerve That It Doesn’t Need An R-Rating

This post contains spoilers for "M3GAN."

Gerard Johnstone's new film "M3GAN," a violent, wicked, enjoyable hoot of a film, cribs a lot of its images and plot points from films that came before. It bears a strong resemblance to Lars Klevberg's 2019 remake of "Child's Play," as well as to Wes Craven's goofy 1986 robo-thriller "Deadly Friend." The M3GAN of the title is a hyperintelligent robotic child that is being developed as a high-tech prototype toy by the brilliant engineer Gemma (Allison Williams). When Gemma loses her sister and brother-in-law in a car accident, she becomes the willing-but-not-really-attentive guardian of her nine-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Gemma uses the presence of a child in her home to field test M3GAN (body by Amie Donald, voice by Jenna Davis), and the robot quickly becomes a tender, ersatz parent for Cady. Naturally, M3GAN begins taking her task of protecting Cady a little too seriously, and it won't be long before she's killing dogs and blasting the facial skin from a nosy neighbor. 

In a recent interview with Total Film, Johnstone explained that his original cut of "M3GAN" was rated R by the MPA, likely for its violence. In the PG-13-rated theatrical cut, one can see where some extra gore might have been included. The above mentioned face-skin-blasting scene, for instance, takes place in a toolshed where M3GAN uses a high-pressure herbicide sprayer to attack Gemma's horrible neighbor Celia (Lori Dungey). Celia is knocked down, and M3GAN sprays her directly in the face. The film then cuts to a river of herbicide/blood flowing away from the scene of the crime. It appears there might have once been a gorier closeup of Celia's face as her skin loosens and is melted off her skull. 

What You See Versus What You Don't See

Would have it provided a fun, nasty, visceral thrill to watch Celia's face melt off? Perhaps. Gore is not always to be eschewed, and, ever since the glory days of Herschell Gordon Lewis, there is always going to be a place in cinema for buckets of blood, shock, and quivering human viscera. Gore and violence can be exhilarating, especially in a horror context, and there is a part inside all of us that takes pleasure in watching someone getting their head torn off, their ribcage removed, or their brains splattering on a sidewalk. 

But even so, not seeing the gore -- or perhaps seeing just a little -- can be more straightforwardly terrifying. Sometimes it's the act of violence itself that is shocking enough, even without buckets of blood. The most notable kill in "M3GAN" comes when Cady, previously homeschooled, takes a tour of a calming, outdoor private school for troubled kids. During the tour, Cady is targeted by a tall, evil child who aims to hurt other kids. The bully child steals M3GAN and flees into the woods to smash her with a rock. M3GAN, in a flash, shifts into "kill mode," and pulls off his ear (!). There isn't a spray of blood, but M3GAN does casually flip the ear over her shoulder. She then unhinges her elbows, and runs after the now-fleeing bully like a tiger, chasing him to a nearby road where he is creamed by a car. 

The filmmakers could have included a scene where audiences see the child mashed into the front grill of a GMC, but tastefully left it out. Instead, all we see is one of the child's errant shoes skittering along the road after the car. 

Letting Gemma Off The Hook

That shoe is far more disturbing than any gore. The sudden absence of a child hits one in the pit of their stomach. The gory approach would have provided a perhaps-fun gross-out moment for audiences, but the sudden disappearance makes M3GAN's actions that much more harrowing. In this case, it's what audiences do not see that makes the scene scary. M3GAN isn't a purveyor of blood, but a calculating monster who is perfectly willing to take the life of a child.

That's a galling enough notion that a violence-led R-rating is perhaps unneeded. Director Johnstone and screenwriter Akela Cooper ("Malignant") wrote M3GAN to be bitter, violence, catty, sarcastic, and devious, all without too much explicit gore. Additionally, the lack of too much gore helpfully exonerates the character of Gemma. Gemma, in creating M3GAN, would be legally complicit in her crimes. In looking away from the gore, and also adding scenes where presumed-dead characters reappear alive, the film allows Gemma to flee the story without facing arrest. Gemma may have been an irresponsible character at the start of "M3GAN," but she learns and grows into someone a little bit more adult by the end. Forcing her into prison for the crimes of an evil robot child is not the happy ending audiences might want. 

Because of the circumstances of M3GAN's murders, Gemma emerges symbolically blameless. If audiences don't see the blood up close, they might be willing to forgive Gemma's Frankenstein-ian mistake. Gemma and Cady will now attempt to form a more wholesome, complete family unit, and the monster has been vanquished. 

The blood, now, can flow forth in the film's inevitable sequel. Call it "M3G4N."

Read this next: The Best Horror Movie Performances Of 2022

The post M3GAN Has So Much Nerve That It Doesn't Need an R-Rating appeared first on /Film.

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