From The Black Phone To M3GAN, Two Sisters Are Taking Over Modern Horror

The horror fandom is one of the most dedicated and passionate cultural communities in existence, with countless conventions, festivals, and celebrations happening year-round — all connected by the mutual appreciation for frightful films. Some may go so far as to call the horror fandom a "family," but in the case of two of horror's most promising young actors, that description is literal. Madeleine and Violet McGraw are both still in their adolescent years, but have given performances in horror films that some adult actors could only dream of pulling off. Oftentimes, memorable horror performances from children are rooted in the "killer kid" subgenre, but for the McGraw sisters, the young performers both shine as hero protagonists.

In less than a year, horror juggernaut Blumhouse Productions has released two films with Universal Pictures through their first-look deal that contain dynamic performances from young actors. "The Black Phone" and "M3GAN" couldn't be more different tonally or thematically, but they're united in the brilliant delivery of their pre-teen leads played by the McGraw sisters. The last year has been rich with phenomenal performances in horror, but the McGraw sisters deserve their flowers for their impressive contributions to the genre and proof that the next generation of Scream Queens is already here.

Madeleine McGraw in The Black Phone

I first learned of Madeleine McGraw when she lent her voice to Bonnie in "Toy Story 4," and was elated to discover she was also the voice of young Katie Mitchell in "The Mitchells vs. The Machines." McGraw has actually played a lot of "younger version" characters, including young Hope Pym in "Ant-Man and the Wasp," and young Amara in "Pacific Rim: Uprising." However, one of McGraw's breakthrough roles was as Amber Barnes in the series "Outcast," a young girl who has been surrounded by the threats and presence of possessions since birth, as her father has experienced possession for most of his life. Horror is at the foundation of McGraw's career, which led to her being cast in films like "The Harbinger," where she plays the incredibly creepy Rosalie Snyder, who may or may not be an omen of death.

But it's her turn as Gwen Shaw in "The Black Phone" that is the best showcase of her acting prowess. Whether it's her calling cops "dumb f****** fart knockers" to their faces, beating up bullies twice her size, or hilariously praying to god she might not believe in, Gwen steals every moment she's on screen. "The Black Phone" is a terrifying film about a child murderer who dons an unsettling devil mask, but the hardest scene to watch in the film is when Gwen endures the physical abuse of her father. The commitment made by Madeleine McGraw in this moment is enough to make you feel like your soul has left your body. The way she commands the scene through tears and screams of defiance was some of the strongest acting of 2022. I have no doubt that Madeleine McGraw has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of other kid actors-turned-adult superstars like Kirsten Dunst.

Violet McGraw in M3GAN

Despite being the youngest of the McGraw siblings (Jack, Madeleine, Aidan, and Violet), Violet McGraw boasts the largest horror pedigree in the family. One of her very first professional gigs was voicing the character Mya Peterson in the stealth horror video game "Hello Neighbor" and the sequel "Hello Neighbor: Hide & Seek," so horror has been a part of her life from the very beginning. Her breakthrough role came in 2018 when Violet played Young Nell in Mike Flanagan's "The Haunting of Hill House." Her role put her at the center of one of the show's most horrific (and depressing) plots, that of the Bent-Neck Lady. She continued her work with Flanagan on his adaptation of "Doctor Sleep," playing the young Violet Hansen, a girl feasted upon by the True Knot led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).

Violet McGraw later popped up in the short film "Grummy," which was directed by R.H. Norman and Micheline Pitt, who will be writing and directing the body horror film "Cosmetic," based on an idea from Ingrid Bisu and James Wan. There's no word on whether or not "Cosmetic" will feature Violet McGraw or even necessitate a young actor, but the connection between the two projects is fascinating considering Wan was also a producer on "M3GAN."

While the animatronic killer doll is the undeniable star of the film, Violet McGraw's performance as Cady is layered, heartbreaking, and the emotional crux of the entire film. Cady is a child mourning the loss of her parents and being thrown into a completely new living situation and immediately fixates on the bond she makes with M3GAN. Without McGraw's grounded and empathetic performance, "M3GAN" runs the risk of feeling like exploitative schlock. Fortunately, that doesn't happen, because, like her sister, Violet McGraw is a powerhouse.