She's Your New Best Friend
The killer doll is a pretty standard motif in horror at this point. From Dolls to The Boy, Annabelle, Trilogy of Terror, and of course Child's PlayAlthough some might have thought that the idea of a killer doller slasheer flick couldnt' support a multi-decade spanning franchise, Chucky certainly proved them wrong, constantly reinventing his series, Child's Play to stay fresh and interesting three decades later., this is ground that well trod at this point. And it makes sense because dolls are inherently creepy. They're designed to look human but they have issues with the uncanny valley, never quite looking as lifelike as designed. Instead of being comforting they're often scary. Disturbing in their own way, which makes them perfect for horror.
Since it's a genre that's been pretty beaten down at this point with all the entries, a film has to do something to really stand out from the crowd. 2019's Child's Play tried to insert some sci-fi tech into the horror to tell a story of technology gone wrong. It worked, a bit, but there was something missing from that film that kept it from rising to the heights of the genre. What was missing, apparently, was a killer doll that could sing and dance while they happily murdered. That raises the creep factor up a to a whole extra level. That's the kind of doll featured in M3GAN and, you know? It works.
M3GAN (voiced and performed by Amie Donald) is the creation of Gemma (Allison Williams), a robotics expert working for Funki Toys. Funki has a line of animatronic toy pets that they've been selling, but when other toy companies start coming out with their own toy pets, the CEO, David (Ronny Chieng), demands something new, fresh, and cheap for the market segment. Instead, Gemma creates M3GAN, a life-like robotic girl who can act as a little kid's best friend through thick and thin. All she needs is someone that can help her train the A.I.
While Gemma is hard at work on her robotic girl, her sister, brother-in-law, and niece Cady (Violet McGraw) all end up in a nasty car accident after getting lost in a nasty snow storm. Cady is the only survivor and she ends up staying with Gemma. Not knowing how to deal with an 8-year-old, Gemma immediately has Cady pair with M3GAN. The two form a very quick and very close bond, with Cady finding the comfort she needs in this trying time in the robotic girl. But as M3GAN (powered by an adaptive A.I.), grows and learns, she starts to take on behavior that Gemma isn't too happy about. She can't just take the toy away as Cady has become dependent on M3GAN, but as bodies start to drop in curious ways Gemma starts to wonder if M3GAN has gone evil. Can the little robotic girl kill? And if so, who's next?
At its core, M3GAN is a killer doll film not that different from many of the others in the genre. She starts out seemingly sweet, but as the film progresses various factors (internal and external) conspire to send the doll off the deep end. By the end of the film there's a trail of bodies (and blood, if you watch the unrated version of the film) and, of course, it all leads back to M3GAN. Then it's just a cat-and-mouse game to see how long it is before the killer doll is killed herself while the family learns a lesson about caring and sharing and not playing with dolls. Pretty standard stuff.
Where M3GAN finds it's twist, you'd think, is in its use of sci-fi tech inserted into the girl-bot. Most killer dolls in the genre are powered by black magic, or haunted spirits, or something. A sci-fi bent would be pretty fresh for the genre... were it not for the 2019 Child's Play. That film also used the idea of sci-fi tech gone wrong in a walking, talking, animatronic friend. It's a good twist, make no mistake, as it plays on the fears of what would happen if the technology that powered so much of our lives went back. M3GAN taps into that same fear, and it does it decently well, but it doesn't feel as fresh as it could have just because of that 2019 film.
Where the film does manage to shine is in making M3GAN both into Cady's real friend and protector. Chucky, or whoever, is usually just a creepy doll that misuses and abuses their kid sidekick while they go off on their murderous spree, but M3GAN (at least for a while) seems to genuinely want to love and protect her charge. The pairing actually seems to be effective, and M3GAN proves, time and again, that she's willing to do anything to defend her little girl. That's why so many bodies drop in the film: someone fucked with Cady and the M3GAN had to cut a bitch. I can appreciate that as M3GAN isn't necessarily powered by evil.
And then, yeah, there's the singing and dancing. The creepy dancing was a highlight of the trailer, becoming a very meme-ready moment that fueled much of the buzz for the film. It's not that prominent in the movie, so don't get your hopes up for elaborately choreographed murder dances (although, man, that would be cool). But the times M3GAN lets out with a song, or a bit of a dance, it is creepy. It's something you'd never see Chucky do, letting M3GAN find her own path through this genre.
The deaths are also pretty solid. At least in the unrated version, they're gory, brutal, and plentiful enough. The nice thing is that, for the most part, everyone that actually dies in the film does deserve it. When someone eats it, you're half cheering because you get why M3GAN killed who she killed. Justified deaths are more satisfying, allowing you to both cheer for the killer while you're disgusted at their actions. It sets an interesting tone for the horror and, again, it's an angle Chucky and other killer dolls can't emulate. M3GAN finds new ground here.
Those moments are key for the film because, otherwise, M3GAN would just be a weird combination of Chucky and The Ghost in the Machine (again, let me point you to the 2019 Child's Play for that). M3GAN maybe doesn't do enough to completely shift the dynamic away from what came before, to find her own true ground in the genre. There are inspired moments, though, where the film finds something fun and new and those moments are great.
M3GAN is genre fare, through and through, but fun in its own way. It might not be truly unique but it is enjoyable, and that's hard to argue against. You may as well watch it (in its unrated form) because a sequel is already in production and I'm sure we'll see this homicidal little girl-bot again really soon.