M3GAN: A new wave of doll horror



Amie Donald (left), Allison Williams (middle) and Violet McGrawn (right) star in Gerard Johnstone latest artificial intelligence inspired horror film.

“M3GAN”, an abbreviation for Model Three Generative Android, is not your standard name brand toy. Not only does she serve as your child’s best friend, but also as her sworn protector, following her system prerogative to an absolute tee. Fluent in thousands of languages and capable of the most mind-bending forms of violence, you too can order your death bot to butcher whomever you see fit. Buy now for only $399 at your local toy store, or order online for only $40 more. Shipping rates may apply.

In a world where M3GAN does pass the safety standards for commercialized use, this would be a true-to-form tagline for the titanium plated, super bot. Although, I find it tough to see the marketing team let that slide by without getting flagged for the protector wordplay. Maybe a little too on the aggressive side. Well, at least in our pre-AI riddled world, we get the joy of seeing “M3GAN’s” story paved across the big screen in Hollywood’s latest horror/comedy.

“M3GAN”, directed by Gerard Johnstone, follows a young girl named Cady after a tragic snow plough accident kills both her parents. Now orphaned, she is taken in by her aunt Gemma, a gifted roboticist who works at techno-centric toy company, Funki. Lacking in the parenting department, Gemma leans on her habits of thinking rather than feeling to solve her homebound problems. Finishing her previously botched sci-fi side project, M3GAN, Gemma uses Cady to pair with the new AI, showing her boss David Lin the next age of technological advancement.

As Cady and M3GAN’s bond begins to move towards a symbiotic level, Lin’s interest in deepening his pockets follows suit, scheduling a showcase of the M3GAN prototype to be revealed as “the biggest thing since the internet”.”

However, as M3GAN grows closer to Cady, so do her independent functions, greying the lines between what she deems a threat against her human counterpart. A missing dog here, an earless boy there, and a few missing memory scans lead Gemma to question the sovereignty M3GAN has grown to attain.

As suspicions rise, and the showcase looms overhead, the threat of M3GAN becomes much clearer in the face of those directly involved, whether it is too late for them or not. Closing on a classic horror monster showdown that is worthy of a Terminator thumbs up (see “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” for reference), the film leaves on an eerie foreshadow, with Gemma’s home assistant system giving an almost winkish blink to the camera.

M3GAN’s story and screenwriting credits are steered by noted horror icon James Wan, who directed the “Saw” series, as well as creating “The Conjuring” series. Akela Cooper, who collaborated with Wan for the 2021 horror film “Malignant,” also sees a seamless transition between gruesome deaths and humored set pieces, a dynamic that everyone involved in this story seemed well aware of.

The absurdity of a “kids” toy being closer to a tank than that of a fidget spinner leaves a lot of variety in terms of what route they could have taken this story. Sure, we could have seen another “Annabelle,” where a creepy, placid faced puppet terrorizes the town, or maybe a spiritual succession to “Chucky,” leaning more towards the dirt and grime of the doll that started it all. M3GAN chose to be different.

One with the times, M3GAN is its own horror brand that is funny to laugh both with and at. A nod to Gemma’s Tinder status in the opening 10 minutes paired with a composed and personalized death march from the cyber slayer, a term I use both literally and metaphorically, are small examples of how well the film sways between its two prime genres.

All that paired with a somewhat resonating display of the affliction a technology dependent lifestyle can have, as Cady sets a strong record to beat in the race for the 2023 tantrum of the year, the audience can walk out reflecting on the film’s gory comedic beats, as well as its discussion on real world addiction. Although we have some bearing on the technology we wield now, how many more human advancements will it take until we too are buying our very own murder bots? Maybe mine will come with a laundry setting?