M3GAN Director Gerard Johnstone Says PG-13 Reshoots Made The Horror 'More Effective'

Is a PG-13 rating the kiss of death for horror in modern Hollywood? Sure, it can be, but it doesn't have to be. As anyone who's seen Sam Raimi's gleefully gooey and gross "Drag Me to Hell" can testify, a PG-13 horror movie can be just as nasty and twisted as its R-rated brethren (if not more so). In fact, director Gerard Johnstone has cited Raimi's 2009 hit as one of the films that gave him the confidence to embrace PG-13 with the reshoots for his dancing killer A.I. robot thriller "M3GAN."

On the off-chance you've missed the plethora of trailers, TV spots, and memes showing the film's namesake getting her murder-groove on, "M3GAN" centers on Gemma ("Get Out" and "The Perfection" star Allison Williams), a toy company roboticist whose new creation — the titular M3GAN, who looks a bit like an uncanny CGI doll-sized version of Elizabeth Olsen — takes her job of caring for Gemma's newly orphaned niece Cady ("Doctor Sleep" and "The Haunting of Hill House" alum Violet McGraw) a little too seriously. The movie sees Johnstone, director of the wonderfully outlandish indie horror-comedy "Housebound," drawing from a script by "Malignant" writer Akela Cooper, so expectations are high for this one among fans of all things campy and weird.

While "Housebound" and "Malignant" didn't concern themselves with securing a PG-13, Johnstone assured Total Film that he didn't have to sacrifice his creative vision to achieve that rating with "M3GAN." Claiming the film "was always so close to PG-13 anyway," he said it felt like "a mistake not to embrace it. I even remember thinking early on, 'This could be PG-13, and some of my favorite films like 'Drag Me to Hell' are PG-13.' So we made the decision to go PG-13 and actually reshot a couple of things."

What you imagine is worse than what you see

The trailers and behind-the-scenes promos for "M3GAN" show the film's namesake trying to rip a little kid's ear off, chasing people by running on all fours, and deploying everything from nail guns to pressure washers to attack anyone and anything she deems a threat to Cady's general well-being. Gerard Johnstone confirmed to Total Film that there's even a scene where M3GAN dishes out her brand of BFF TLC to Gemma's neighbor's intimidating dog in an act of violence that, graciously, takes place entirely off-camera thanks to the movie's reshoots. However, if the director is to be believed, it's actually more disturbing now than it was in the earlier cut:

"I remember turning to my sound designer after a re-do and just saying, 'Holy s***, that's worse.' [Laughs] We were trying to get this PG-13 rating and I was like, 'That is so much worse than what we had before.'"

I don't doubt it. Foley artists and sound designers are capable of crafting real horror movie magic through the power of implication and suggestion. Even Luca Guadagnino's firmly R-rated cannibal horror-romance drama "Bones and All" often cuts away in the scenes where its leads are snarfing down a human before it shows them splattered in blood afterwards, allowing the sounds of what's happening to fill in the gaps. In that case, admittedly, this approach was as much about not losing sight of the victims' humanity as it is the unadulterated horror of it all. Still, it will be interesting to see if "M3GAN" proves effective with its own less-is-more methods.

"M3GAN" opens in theaters on January 6, 2023.