Killer doll movies are a dime a dozen with most of them banking on the enduring success of Child’s Play. M3GAN might not be as revolutionary as its titular character, but it is among the most unique entries in this horror subgenre. It’s just as much a sci-fi film with elements of RoboCop. M3GAN is another satire of consumerism, opening with a commercial for a modern Furby. It’s also a sharp commentary on parenting and its substitutes. For generations, the TV was the perennial babysitter. In recent years, the iPad has usurped the boob tube’s position. M3GAN is the next step in the evolution of pawning your kid off on a device.
Following her breakthrough work on Girls, Allison Williams risked being typecast as the generic best friend. Thankfully, she’s continued to challenge herself as an actress with daring roles in Get Out, The Perfection, and now M3GAN. Williams plays Gemma, a roboticist wasting her talents at a toy company. Her and two other colleagues set their sights on a more ambitious project, a realistic girl doll named M3GAN. Another girl is suddenly thrust into Gemma’s life when her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a car crash. Gemma kills two birds with one stone, showing her boss what M3GAN can do by having her tend to Cady. M3GAN may take caregiving too far, however. #KeepSummerSafe
M3GAN possesses such a freaky aesthetic that some might question why any parent would pay $10,000 for such a doll. Then again, porcelain dolls are equally creepy, but they inexplicably remain profitable. It took two actresses to bring M3GAN to life: Jenna Davis, who sounds like a more chipper version of GLaDOS from Portal, and Amie Donald, who might have a career akin to Doug Jones’. We never doubt M3GAN’s artificial nature thanks to Donald’s body language. Even her TikTok dance moves have a robotic edge. As unnerving as M3GAN is, she’s oddly a much better mother than Gemma.
No joke. For the film’s first two-thirds, M3GAN is arguably the true hero. She takes an active interest in Cady, helps her cope with the loss of her parents, and protects her from threats. Granted, a few lives are lost along the way. Many of the characters get what’s coming to them, though, especially an abusive boy who was bound to become a rapist by high school. All the while, Gemma is more focused on her work than her child. That said, Gemma isn’t unsympathetic, as she wasn’t prepared to become a caregiver overnight. She does love Cady and slowly realizes that a toy can’t fill a parent’s role. By that point, though, Cady may be too attached to M3GAN.
Most killer doll movies either take themselves too seriously or lean too far into absurdity. Director Gerard Johnstone and writer Akela Cooper strike the ideal balance here. M3GAN never forgets that it’s a horror movie, but it doesn’t ignore the silly nature of the premise either. While the film knows when to be self-aware, it avoids going overboard with the comedy. A rendition of Titanium comes close (calling Pitch Perfect to mind), but the filmmakers reel the scene back just enough. Some might describe M3GAN as camp, but it’s well-crafted, intelligent camp with loads of franchise potential. Imagine M3GAN meets the Cabbage Patch riots in the sequel.