We’ve been watching her dance and twerk in TikTok videos and GIFs for months: The creepy-polished “Like, duh” girl-next-door doll from James Wan and Blumhouse’s new horror-comedy, M3GAN. But it’s nothing that can prepare you, even a little bit, for how preposterous and awesome this killer toy truly is when left to exist in a world of selfish millennials, money-grubbing CEOs, and abusive dudebros. Thankfully, Gerard Johnstone’s film is no ponderous warning about the dangers of A.I. (been there, done that), but it’s so deadly funny and sly as to rank up there with some of the best killer doll flicks ever made.
The whole thing is ridiculous, and that’s part of the fun. Even the casting is spot-on: Allison Williams, who has played the too-perfect princess in HBO’s Girls and the villainous lure in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, is robotics wiz Gemma, an employee of Funki, a Funko-esque toy company that specializes in Furbee-like plush dolls for kids. Williams has mastered the art of playing delusional characters wildly unaware of their imperfections, which definitely describes Gemma. She’s basically stolen $100K of her company’s money to complete her passion project, M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android. The first test run is an explosive disaster, which pisses off her cartoonishly-craven boss (Ronny Chieng) who really wants a cheaper-model toy to “kick Hasbro in the dick.”
So Gemma is under some pressure at work. Add to that the sudden parenting duties heaped upon her when 9-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw) arrives, following the deaths of her parents in a snowy car crash. Gemma barely shows any emotion to the fact that her sister was just killed, prompting a social worker to ask “How close were you to your sister”? It’s pretty clear that Gemma had no plans of ever being a parent, and her skills are not up to snuff. Fortunately, the poor, traumatized Cady makes a brilliant test subject for the newly-remodeled M3GAN, giving the girl a friend she can lean on for support. She also takes the parenting load off of Gemma who clearly can’t hack it.
From the beginning, M3GAN doesn’t hide where it’s going. We know right from the start that this scarily life-like creation of metal and hair and lasers and skin, is going to be trouble. She bonds, or “pairs” with Cady instantly. M3GAN reads her bedtime stories, plays games with her, and soothes her when the girl cries over her dead parents. Also, M3GAN is a fierce protector, a mama bear of synthetic parts and synthetic human emotions. If Cady is her primary user, then M3GAN must protect her from harm at all costs. Heaven forbid you’re a cranky old neighbor with a reckless dog, or a bullying boy at camp…or a substitute parent too occupied with your job.
The blood runs fast and freely, but M3GAN isn’t especially gory. Wan, who created this as a high-tech version of his Annabelle demonic doll franchise, works with screenwriter Akela Cooper to deliver a horror-comedy that leans heavily on the latter. M3GAN drops one-liners and kill-quotes faster than Chucky and she looks much better doing it. The danger in her is that her schoolgirl looks are deceptive. Everyone sees how creepy M3GAN is but they suspect it can’t be that big of a deal, until people start dying. With Amie Donald providing M3GAN’s silky movements and Jenna Davis as her innocent voice, this is one doll many of us would be fooled by. We’d let her into our homes and into our lives, sewing seeds of digital destruction right beneath our noses.
At the heart of M3GAN is our own foolishness when it comes to the prevalence of technology in our lives. Gemma can’t be bothered with the whole parenting thing, so she creates M3GAN as a tool for taking care of what she perceives as the “little things”, so she can get back to selfishly worrying about herself. But to do this, M3GAN must learn, and evolve, with what Gemma calls “emergent capabilities.” And before long, M3GAN is so multi-talented she can kill with a nail gun as skillfully as she can host a tea party or create works of art. Oops.
While the PG-13 rating leads to a less-than-satisfying flesh vs. metal showdown, it doesn’t hurt the film all that much because M3GAN was always about laughs rather than scares. It’s an astonishingly fun techno-thriller that instantly has you dreaming up killer doll crossover ideas and the potential in M3GAN sequels with upgraded software and leveled-up stakes. And newer TikTok dances, of course.
M3GAN opens in theaters on January 6th.