Kicking off what is looking to be an exciting year for film, Universal Pictures released “M3GAN,” a science-fiction horror-comedy about an artificial intelligence playmate in the form of a girl-sized robotic doll. The Model 3 Generative Android, or M3GAN, is the future of not only children’s toys but robotics and technology as a whole.

As the first of hopefully many M3GANs become ingratiated with her creator Gemma, played by Allison Williams, and her grief-stricken niece Cady, played by Violet McGraw, it seems like M3GAN is as extraordinary as people hoped. But as the movie continues and the situations escalate, M3GAN begins to go beyond her intended functions in what she believes to be the logical extension of her programming. While this synopsis may not seem entirely original, “M3GAN’’ manages to set itself apart with its character-driven story and heart.

The idea of an artificially intelligent robot or a child’s toy turning into a horrific monster is something that audiences have seen before. The most straightforward way to describe the movie would be if David from Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” became akin to Chucky from the “Child’s Play” slasher franchise, with some influences from classic stories such as “Frankenstein” mixed in as well. But while this is the plot, it isn’t what people should see “M3GAN” for. The film doesn’t center around the titular robot as much as it does on themes of loss and parenthood. Cady has recently lost both of her parents in a car crash and Gemma, her work-obsessed aunt, has to find a way to take care of her, thinking completing her pet project M3GAN is the best way to connect with her niece. The moments dealing with these emotions and the relationship between these two characters are perhaps the best in the film, even if M3GAN doesn’t appear in many of them.

While it would be easy to turn this concept into a simple slasher horror movie, “M3GAN” manages to blend genres to not fall into the cliches of simple horror while also adding to the horrific elements at the same time. The comedic aspects of the film hit well and often amplify the feelings of dread that build up throughout the plot. Things that M3GAN does at the beginning of the film that plays for laughs get twisted into something disturbing and horrific at the climax. Incredibly gruesome moments can lead to a laugh as the audience is shown a reaction or a comedic element that further layers the scenes. Many horror comedies try so hard to do both that they fail to accomplish either as fully as they could have, but “M3GAN” maintains a balance that feels right and gets the right reactions from the audience. This could be due to the fact that James Wan and Jason Blum — prominent modern horror filmmakers — had a large part in the film’s production and were able to add their expertise in this area. The comedic elements make it more than a simple jumpscare slasher film, making “M3GAN” a great option for those who may want to get into horror and start with something more fun and grounded at first.

Where “M3GAN” really shines though are the performances. M3GAN seems either incredibly real or artificial whenever each is needed throughout the movie. Williams and McGraw really ground and sell the film and concept as Gemma and Cady, both portraying the complex relationship and feelings between the two characters incredibly well. Supporting cast members such as Ronny Chieng as David add a lot of humor to their scenes and help flesh out the world of “M3GAN.” There isn’t a performance that takes the audience out of the plot or falls flat.

Overall, “M3GAN” takes a plot that any horror or science fiction viewer has seen dozens of times to various degrees of success and blends genres to turn it into a fun and entertaining experience. The movie’s relatively short runtime is used well and allows you to get sucked into the story while also not dragging and showing unnecessary moments. While “M3GAN” isn’t likely to win any awards or become a classic in the horror genre, it is worth watching while it’s out for some escapism and enjoyment mixed with complexity and heart throughout. It seems like if you look at past media, every generation has its take on the horrific killer doll — Annabelle, Chucky, even as far back as Talky Tina from “The Twilight Zone.” M3GAN is the newest incarnation of that trope and in many ways modernizes it in a way that a 2020s audience could enjoy it, as its a fun story with horrific elements grounding and layering the plot.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars