Killer dolls have a long and glorious history in pop culture and horror. Chucky from Child’s Play, Annabelle, even Krusty from that episode of Treehouse of Horror on The Simpsons. True doll-heads can even point to Robert, the world’s most haunted doll, currently residing in Key West.
And we can now add the delightful, hilarious, and terrifying M3GAN to the mix.
M3GAN is an acronym, standing for Model 3 Generative Android. It’s designed by Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant and scruple-free robotics engineer, to be the ultimate playmate and companion. When her sister and brother-in-law die in a car accident, she suddenly winds up as the guardian of her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw). Clueless as how to care for or even talk to a grieving child, Gemma has the brilliant idea to beta test her android on Cady.
I’m sure you can guess that things don’t go exactly as planned.
See, M3GAN is a learning android and now that she has bonded with Cady, it’s her mission to protect her from harm. That includes the physical harm that would come from bullies and mean neighbor dogs and the emotional harm that would come from being separated for even a few minutes. And M3GAN gets very proactive in her threat assessments.
The film is very smart about the relationship between Cady and M3GAN, gradually ramping up the dependency. At first, Gemma is thrilled to have the help. M3GAN reminds Cady to flush and wash her hands. She plays with her and even comforts her when she thinks about her dead parents, until M3GAN starts to wonder why they need Gemma around at all.
The screenplay is by Akela Cooper with story credit by James Wan. They previously worked together on the deliriously deranged (in the best way) horror film Malignant. That movie ended with a sentient tumor going on a murderous rampage. While this doesn’t get to those lofty heights, it is more overtly funny.
There are a number of laugh-out-loud lines. In my favorite, Cady asks M3GAN if the bully who got killed is really in a better place like Aunt Gemma said. M3GAN scoffs. “No.” Besides, if heaven did exist, why would a jerk like him be there? (She makes a good point.)
There are also a number of interesting threads running through here, like what responsibility we have to our creations, how screens are becoming de facto parents, and the ethics of robotics. But don’t worry! None of that gets in the way of a movie where a robot girl murders people with a paper cutter and pesticide spray, all while looking extremely stylish. This film does not forget why you came to see it.
This film would not work nearly as well if it weren’t anchored by the performances of the leads. Williams is great as Gemma, trying hard to take care of her unexpected charge while barely containing her resentment at being put in this position. And McGraw is wonderful as Cady, effectively going from grief to joy to shock as the situation demands.
M3GAN is a rollicking fun time at the movies, and a terrific way to kick off the new year. See it in a packed house with your friends and have a blast.
4 out of 5 stars