Move over, Tickle Me Emo. Clear out, Furby. This season’s hottest cursed toy is M3GAN. At least that’s what toy company, Funki, wants. After losing some market cap to cheaper competitors, the makers of the Perpetual Pet pivot their focus to the luxury android toy, M3GAN, the brainchild of Gemma (Allison Williams). Before Gemma can deliver on her finished design, her life is flipped and she finds herself as the guardian of her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw). Struggling to parent the grief-stricken child while staying ahead in her career, Gemma mashes the two responsibilities together, letting her android invention take on some of the parenting duties. Soon, the doll, whose prime directive is to care for Cady, her primary user, gets a little too close for comfort and Gemma struggles to pry her niece out of her invention’s cold, lifeless hands.
M3GAN isn’t just the latest and greatest new toy, she’s the latest and greatest in horror meme-ability. From her sick dance moves to her unhinged demands, she’s built to get the whole world talking about M3GAN. Yes, M3GAN is next in line of horror dolls (being created in part by ‘Creepy Puppet’ James Wan, the man behind Saw, Dead Silence and The Conjuring), but she is also capitalizing off of horror’s zaniness, taking the piss out of not just Child’s Play but movies about surrogate parents with haunted kids like Mama. M3GAN is a comedy, and an effective one, that dares you to laugh in somber moments before launching a punch line into your gut. Ronny Chieng, a member of the comedian-laden cast, is thrown at us early on as the movie wants us to consider that even the parts where this robot doll is comforting a newly orphaned child are pretty funny. By virtue of being a robot covered in synthetic skin, M3GAN is a natural dead panner but paired with her creepily timed songs and threatening aura, there’s extra comedy woven into this horror flick.
Despite the laughs, this is a horror movie and owes its existence to its cohorts. It’s playing not just off of killer dolls but has scenes evocative of ghost stories, demon haunts, and even dare-I-suggest, nods to our favorite deadite slayer? While their tones are ultimately different, this movie mashes Terminator 2 with Child’s Play in the way The Guest mashed it with Halloween to get self-aware laughs. It modernizes classic tales, chucking them into the age of technology while remaining cognizant enough to make a joke about the android controlling the Alexa stand-in. Scream added in smart home technology for new twists on slasher scares, the Child’s Play remake used an AI doll, and M3GAN upped the ante while not ignoring how silly her ability to control the lighting scheme is. The soul of this soulless bot comes by way of the self-awareness of its creators. It’s co-written by Aleka Cooper and James Wan, who also wrote Malignant, and their penchant for zany and campy horror that’s in on the joke has not diminished.
But M3GAN differs from Malignant in a key way; where that one was a bonkers treat for horror fans, this is coming for a wider audience. Again, she’s a walking meme, engaging in TikTok dances and appealing to young girls. The horror is restrained; most of the scariest moments happen off-screen and the kills happen after a cut-away. Technically, it works, capitalizing off of imagination while remaining accessible for reluctant horror viewers interested enough in the internet’s new favorite villain.
While Williams and McGraw give it their all, the star of the show is Jenna Davis, who voices the bot. The sound design is a lot of fun, adding in robotic voice cracks that denote not only how subhuman she is but also when it’s her impersonating someone else’s voice (a skill, again, that takes us back to the Terminator). Paired with the off-the-wall score, the movie sounds great and will make you want to whip out one of M3GAN’s best body rolls.
M3GAN might strike that cynical chord that makes her seem tailor-made for an expanded franchise and merchandise (I mean we can already map out the numbered titles through MEG4N), but none of that cheapens what is brought to the screen. Evil toys have a comfortable seat in horror, and M3GAN comes to us just as we’re closing in on Judgment Day technologies. While sci-fi speculated how we would use tech to fail at bettering the world and set off a war, M3GAN skips up to point out that the future is now, and we used tech to kill shit and also record ourselves doing weird dances for the internet.