Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves and admit the truth; we need more killer doll movies. A Hollywood staple, our dolls house of creepy creatures is stuffed with ventriloquist’s dummies (Dead of Night, Magic), Zuni dolls (Trilogy of Terror), Chucky, Annabelle and now the latest model, M3GAN. Horror maestro James Wan and the Blumhouse studio are the driving creative force behind this latest trip to the uncanny valley, and paying audiences can’t get enough, with M3GAN taking over $38 million in the US opening weekend, and likely to make many times that in cinemas alone, never mind ancillary markets, sequels and merchandising, because who wouldn’t warm to a walking, talking, livin’ doll like M3GAN?
Gerard Johnstone’s PG-13 thriller is far more sci-fi than horror, and starts with an advert for a product that fortunately only exists in the world of the film; Perpetual Pets. These boggly-eyed critters are produced by Seattle company Funki, and the invention of Gemma (Allison Williams from Girls). Her boss isn’t happy with the on-going ‘cyborg puppet show’ that Gemma presides over and wants more competitive product fast, but Gemma is more interested in creating androids than toys. When Gemma’s sister and her husband are killed in a snow-plough accident, Gemma adopts her sister’s daughter Cady (Violet McGraw), but the workaholic has no children’s books or entertainment in her apartment; ‘These are not toys’ Gemma admonishes the child when she picks up some of the boxed collectibles around her flat, but Cady has genuine needs and Gemma has the know-how to attend to them via her new invention M3GAN….
‘Should it cost more or less than a Tesla?’ Gemma’s boss asks in a nice slam on another misbegotten product; a M3GAN doll is set to retail at $10,000 dollars a pop and due to be unveiled at a gala launch. For demonstration purposes, Gemma needs M3GAN to bond with Cady as her primary user, but the doll’s continual search for self-improvement, lack of parental controls (and sinister listening mode with leads to constant interruptions) begin to worry Gemma even if Cady seems happy enough. M3GAN only wants to protect Cady, but as a therapist notes, the duo are forming some ‘emotional connections which are too hard to untangle…’
M3GAN is a slow and fairly vanilla film; it takes 30 minutes to get to the doll, and by the time she starts to kill, there’s only half an hour left; sequels and spin-offs will find all the heavy lifting has already been done by Akeela Cooper’s script. It’s a modern Frankenstein story, with an ethereal soundtrack and some surprising needle-drops; Accentuate the Positive, David Guetta’s Titanium and Martika’s Toy Soldiers all feature here, with M3GAN’s Elaine Benes dance something of a meme-ready standout. While the satire is blunt and the production values simple, M3GAN is a well-conceived and executed film that hits its target; M3GAN starts out looking transparently fake, but through ingenious use of effects, appears more and more disconcertingly real as the film goes on. A welcome popular hit, M3GAN is the right product at the right time, and proverbial catnip to audiences turned off by awards season civics lectures.