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How M3GAN's PG-13 Rating Made The Movie Even More Disturbing

Is January too early to proclaim movie of the year? What if the movie in question hasn't been released yet? In any case, "M3GAN" has already accrued a ton of buzz on the strength of its trailer alone. The artificially intelligent title character — with her blank stare and TikTok-ready dance moves – is the clear frontrunner for horror's cultiest new villain. 

"M3GAN" stars Allison Williams in her first Blumhouse feature since 2017's "Get Out." Williams plays Gemma, a robotics engineering whiz who takes in her orphaned niece Cady (Violet McGraw) when her sister and brother-in-law tragically die in a car accident. Gemma provides a companion for her traumatized niece in the form of M3GAN, or Model 3 Generative Android. When the childlike droid becomes overprotective of Cady, she becomes infinitely more violent than Gemma ever anticipated. 

While some fans are worried that the film's PG-13 rating will tamp down the scares, director Gerard Johnstone insists that the teen-friendly rating made "M3GAN" even more disturbing.  

Director Gerard Johnstone was happy to leave some grisly scenes to the imagination

In retooling his upcoming horror film "M3GAN" to achieve a PG-13 rating, director Gerard Johnstone leaned into the idea that the power of suggestion can be terrifying. For Johnstone, reshooting certain scenes and emphasizing cutaways and off-camera violence was even more disturbing than straightforward gore. "What I was really stoked about is that when we reshot those scenes, they were more effective," Johnstone said in an interview with Total Film and GamesRadar+. "It's like 'Yes, you do have to cut away at certain times' but it's fun having to rely on sound and suggestion so much."

Johnstone recalled reshooting a specific scene involving the scary dog next door. The end of the scene occurs off-camera, leaving the dog's fate entirely to the viewer's imagination. "I remember turning to my sound designer after a re-do and just saying, 'Holy sh*t, that's worse,'" said Johnstone. "We were trying to get this PG-13 rating and I was like, 'That is so much worse than what we had before.'" Other off-camera scares are surely in store for those who accidentally cross M3GAN's path.

Johnstone was inspired by PG-13 classic Drag Me to Hell

Giving "M3GAN" a PG-13 rating may not have been the original plan, but it didn't take much to walk the movie back from an R rating. "Making it PG-13 was something that happened after the fact, but it was always so close to PG-13 anyway," said Johnstone (via GamesRadar+). It makes sense to court teen audiences, given the ages and sensibilities of the main characters. Johnstone continued, "It seemed kind of a mistake not to embrace it." 

Furthermore, PG-13 horror films aren't without precedent, and one in particular was a lodestar for Johnstone. "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.'" Indeed, Sam Raimi's supernatural horror film has a devoted cult following, despite the lower rating. Roger Ebert even called "Drag Me to Hell" "macabre, over-the-top, fun, funny, silly and loud and bombastic" — characteristics it achieved without an excess of gore or adult-only themes. Other beloved horror movies, including "A Quiet Place," "The Ring," and "The Sixth Sense," are all rated PG-13 as well.

Jason Blum also has no qualms about the PG-13 stamp. "Some of the scariest movies of all time are PG-13, so I don't put too much stock in the bellyaching," the producer told The Hollywood Reporter. "Go see the movie, and then tell me about it."

"M3GAN" hits theaters on Friday, January 6.