Can you create an icon, or does an icon have to be anointed by fans? This grisly and hilarious horror flick – already a huge hit in the US – suggests the former is possible with the right ingredients and a light touch. Director Gerard Johnstone recently told NME that he wanted the title character, a killer doll who follows in the footsteps of genre legends Annabelle and Chucky, to be “an icon in her own right”. This could easily have smacked of trying too hard, but Johnstone really seems to have pulled it off.
Of course, the film’s marketing has been masterful: when the first trailer dropped in October, a dance scene went viral on TikTok, as dance scenes so often did in 2022. But the main reason that M3GAN will be inspiring memes for weeks and probably months to come is because she’s a great character in a very entertaining movie. Many viewers will root for this A.I. assassin even when – perhaps especially when – she turns properly evil.
The film begins with eight-year-old Cady (Violet McGraw) being sent to live with her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) after she’s orphaned in a car crash. Gemma, a brilliant roboticist who works for a Seattle company that makes Furby-like gadgets called Purr-fect Pets, isn’t exactly a natural parent: when Cady arrives at her house, she scolds her for touching a toy that’s supposed to be “a collectible”. However, she thinks she has the perfect companion for her grieving niece: “M3GAN”, short for Model 3 Generative Android, the fully formed prototype for a lifelike A.I. doll that Gemma believes will revolutionise the market.
Because M3GAN is programmed to “pair” with Cady, their bond becomes almost symbiotic as they spend more time together. In the process, M3GAN becomes protective of the little girl to the exclusion of everything else: when the next-door neighbour’s dog bites Cady, his days are numbered. It would be a shame to reveal any more, but it’s surely no spoiler to say that M3GAN’s behaviour becomes increasingly deranged as she becomes ever more laser-focused on Cady’s safety. Portrayed by actress Amie Donald beneath eerily impressive prosthetics, the doll is elegant and unsettling in equal measure.
Director Johnstone, who previously made the low-budget New Zealand horror flick Housebound, deftly blends the comedy, scares and human drama in a smart script by Malignant screenwriter Akela Cooper. M3GAN is often gory and campy in the same scene, but it never winks cynically at its audience, even when the doll breaks into song or busts out some ludicrous dance moves. It helps that Williams, who’s also an executive producer, gives a grounded performance as a woman who’s both well-meaning and selfish, at least to begin with.
M3GAN has clearly been crafted with a future franchise in mind, but it’s hard to be mad it when the character has such potential. Plus, as much fun as this film is, there’s still room for improvement second time out, when fans will probably want the killer doll to lose her shit more quickly. But for now, to borrow a bit of internet speak, M3GAN is an icon, she’s a legend, and she is the moment.
- Director: Gerard Johnstone
- Starring: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald
- Release date: January 13 (UK)