If Chucky and Her had a love child it would be M3GAN—the movie and the toy. The latest in killer doll flicks from the minds of James Wan, Akela Cooper, and director Gerard Johnstone, M3GAN achieves what few horror movies can. It understands its concept is ridiculous and is not afraid to make fun of itself, à la the original Scream, and, in doing so, the film manages to hit the right and relatable notes regarding all that’s terrifying about technology. Because, in 2023, dolly dearest doesn’t need to be possessed by an evil spirit, she just needs an operating system with endless access to the internet.
M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android, is an artificially intelligent doll prototype designed by roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams), who works for a high-end toy company. Gemma is single, affluent, and borderline obsessed with her job. But her life is thrown into a tailspin when her sister and brother-in-law die in a tragic (and very predictable) accident, making her the guardian of their young daughter Cady (played impeccably by Violet McGraw, who macabre fans will remember as the child haunted by the Bent-Neck Lady in The Haunting of Hill House).
McGraw plays Cady with understated ache and angst—a child too young to fully grasp the death of her parents, who struggles to understand her loss, her new home, and her aunt. Gemma, under Williams’ almost robotic control, clearly wasn’t planning on having a kid and seems utterly lost, so she does what every intelligent roboticist would do and pairs her untested AI prototype with her mourning niece. We learn about attachment theory as M3GAN and Cady bond, dance together, draw together, record memories of Cady’s parents, and creepily—hilariously?—sing pop songs for lullabies. Sia and David Guetta’s “Titanium” never sounded so alien. Who needs a loving adult when you can have an all-knowing, seemingly sentient, doll-friend?
The rest happens exactly like you’d expect. There’s a formula to this after all. Just like Her’s Samantha, M3GAN grows smarter by the day. She also grows more connected to Cady and takes on the role of protector until it ends in the death of anyone who so much as raises an eyebrow at the girl. M3GAN amasses a slightly-gory body count, but nothing too violent—those scenes were cut in order to secure a PG–13 rating.
The plot is predictable, right down to the dead dog, but formulaic doesn’t necessarily mean bad. There are still jumps, still moments when you want to yell at the characters, and plenty of moments to laugh at, like an iPad pet that never dies but somehow shits. My biggest complaint, aside from the dead dog—that’s just lazy and unnecessary—are moments toward the end of the movie when the filmmakers use CGI to make M3GAN move like other humanoid monsters in ways that defy the capability of the human body. One of the scariest aspects of modern horror is when the humanesque body moves in clearly inhuman ways—joints bending at wrong angles, and body parts moving incorrectly. It feels primitively wrong. M3GAN, however, is a doll, and dolls don’t have joints like we do (they’re plastic, not skin and bone). So when her joints bend at odd angles it feels forced and breaks character. M3GAN is scary because of her dollness, not her humanness.
But what is scary about M3GAN is its all-too-human obsession with technology. It’s the belief that more is better until Alexa has finally had it with our inability to do anything for ourselves and murders us in our sleep. Not necessarily a groundbreaking angle, but it still has a point. And an unsettling point at that.
M3GAN opens in area theaters today, Jan. 6.